Creating An Ideal Workplace Culture: Are There Keys to Unlocking People Talent?

“That’s just how we do things around here.”

If you’ve ever found yourself on the receiving end of such a statement, take it from me, you are obviously unaware of the company culture you’ve just encountered.  Culture, positive or negative, is a hot topic in leadership circles these days.  Along with employee engagement, talent retention and addressing the generational difference of your workforce many leaders and managers are struggling to find the happy medium amongst it all.

Sadly there is no magic pill leaders can take to make it all work smoothly.  However, working diligently to create and foster a positive culture can and does address all of the above issues under one umbrella.  Hence, the reason CULTURE is fast becoming the buzz term of the decade.

So what is culture and how do you create and foster a positive one?

Firstly, you need to understand that culture is something that gets created whether you focus on it or not.  Just like the weeds in your garden.  If you don’t plant flowers in an empty flower bed, weeds grow.  You didn’t plant them.  It’s likely you didn’t even notice them until they became overrun or you decided you were going to use the flower bed for something.  Company culture is the same.  It’s the ‘way we do things’, ‘the way we treat each other’, and every organization has a distinctive culture – whether it’s acknowledged or not.

Is your company culture positive or negative?

In a positive, empowering and motivating environment, employees feel free to give their best efforts because they believe that it will yield them the results, tangible and intangible, they desire.  Whether its monetary gain, recognition, external appreciation or simply the feeling that they are contributing to a worthy cause.

Negative environments are the opposite.  Employees typically feel guarded and cautious about what they do and say because they have a sense of fear or anxiety about the reaction it might illicit.  This robs the company of their potential and can have a dramatic impact to a company’s bottom line revenues and productivity.

Someone I know once use the analogy of culture as the air you breathe at the office.  You want to make sure everyone is breathing healthy clean air that allows people to grow and develop while producing key results.  Personally, when I think of culture I remind people to look at their own families.  Extended across generations, sometimes religions and ethnic backgrounds, families are a fascinating way to think of culture.  One of my associates comes from a large and very close knit family.  Something you can compare to the ABC Show, “Brothers & Sisters”.  They not only work together, but as adults they have become great friends and allies for each other and their respective causes.  While disagreements and the like do erupt, it’s natural for all of them to come together to resolve an issue.  They do not go outside the family circle for anything unless it’s agreed by the majority that the need to is valid.

Now, it’s natural for small companies to develop deeper than average relationships with their entire team due to the close proximity and ‘multiple hat’ type of needs that exist.  But how does a larger company, or any company for that matter, start working towards ensuring “the air is healthy.”

What can be done

First by recognizing that company culture is largely defined by the leadership team.  Its style and collective personality set the tone for the entire organization.  Is it one that fosters trust, respect and open honest communication between all parties?  If not, it’s likely your organization is also missing the boat on employee engagement and talent retention.

Secondly, you can take note of Roger D’Aprix’s work.  A highly respected Organizational Development consultant in a television interview more than 25 years ago outlined a simple and intriguing perspective on how to engage employees.  He developed a series of 6 questions that the majority of employees and companies ask themselves.  They are:

  • The “I” Questions:
  • “What’s MY Job?”
  • “How am I doing?”
  • “Does ANYONE care?”
  • The “WE” Questions:
  • “How are WE doing?”
  • “Are WE doing our share?”
  • “What can I do to help?”

D’Aprix explained that he believed the last question to be the real key in employee engagement.  Because, the employee him/herself held the key to unlocking their own enthusiasm, energy and commitment needed to make a significant contribution to the organization as a whole.

So, if an employee holds the key, what does a leader or manager hold?  They hold the responsibility to do whatever they can to create the type of work environment where the first five questions can be answered in a honest, candid and safe way.  The leaders and managers then are in the positive to bring about dramatic improvements to the way their organizations are run.

D’Aprix goes on to outline how these questions can work.

1)     What’s My Job?

Each employee must have a clear and accurate outline of what their work entails and what he or she is expected to accomplish in their job.  It should include an outline of the primary duties, key working relationships with others and a clear outline of what is expected in terms of performance results.

2)     How am I doing?

Leaders and managers must provide regular feedback on the performance of each employee through a effective performance feedback system.  A system that identifies areas of strength, needed improvement and strategies for support and mentorship is critical to success.  Be aware that younger employees will not be satisfied with the typical once a year annual review.  They want constant, instantaneous feedback as well as the overall review process.

3)     Does anybody really care?

Leaders need to not only provide effective feedback as noted, they need to provide a level of rewards and recognition appropriate to the person receiving it.  This requires a solid understanding of what motivators work best for the individuals you lead.  Keep in mind that not all recognition and reward initiatives require a financial investment.  For many people a simple Thank You given at the right time can be more meaningful.

4)     How are we doing?

Effective leaders must also be able to articulate what their particular group or team contributes to the overall direction of the company.  If team members have no idea where they stand in terms of hard results, they cannot see or make the necessary changes to improve them.  People are more focused when there is a clearly set of defined goals and targets.

5)     Are we doing our share?

If team members can see that they are doing their fair share and that progress is occurring, that in itself provides the positive feedback that will keep them engaged.  Alternatively, if they see that their contribution is not meeting expectations or is somehow negatively impacting another groups ability to perform, it can help ignite the desire to bring about positive change.  Honest and candor are critical at this point – so individuals and teams can objectively determine what else they need to be doing.

6)     What can I do to help?

It is the leaders primary role to help create, establish and nurture a company culture where employees are eager to ask these six questions and ready to contribute their knowledge, skills, and abilities to help achieve success.  This entails truly understanding what your employee’s are looking for in an ‘ideal workplace’ and going about foster that.

Personal & Company Values are the next stage of understanding and developing a specific type of culture.

What are your organization’s core values?

Core value statements are guides to individual and collective behavior.  They serve as a filter for decision making, opportunity identification and risk management.  If you already have a set of core values, you might find it interesting to conduct an informal survey of how well your staff and team believe “you, and the company” to be “walking the talk.”

If you don’t, then I highly recommend you give one of my team members a call.

What are the principles of conduct that you abide by, documented or not? First begin by listing out what you think are your organizations values.  Then start the dialogue with your staff.  I guarantee you’d be amazed at the results.  As well, the dialogue itself will start a shift in awareness which will ultimately result in a more positive workplace culture.

Values  and Positive Culture are the foundation of every successful organization. Staff, suppliers, associates, clients, customers and partners want to align themselves with people and companies that think like they do.  That act like they do.  And that see the world the way they do.  And most importantly, that see the world the way they think it could be.


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