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The C-Word

Miles Skelton  |  March 20, 2019

I’m starting to feel that ‘culture’ is becoming something of a dirty word. When I say that, I don’t mean one that my daughter might end up in “time out” for repeating (she already has plenty of them). I can’t help but feel that it’s becoming rather muddied through over or misuse. Either that or it’s diluted by a tendency that some have to over-embellish or exaggerate the quality of their own culture. How often have you heard a leader say ‘we have a great culture here’ or something similar? It’s become a catchphrase that when you ask further almost always leads to very little real information or insight. In these instances, I can’t help but wonder ‘what would their people say if asked about it?’

At MVMNT, culture is a crucial component of everything we’re trying to achieve. A truly great culture flings open the doors to genuine inclusion and diversity as well as taking pride of place within a winning employer brand. A negative, toxic culture on the other hand, will not only become a barrier for the above but very quickly put an organisation into a downwards trajectory towards a nasty end.

So, with so many misjudgements, half and untruths flying around about culture – we wanted to give our take on a few points.

Culture can’t be dictated from above

We believe that there is a common misunderstanding in terms of what workplace culture actually involves. So many leaders are under the impression that a culture is dictated and orchestrated by management. That it’s a set of guidelines and behaviours for people to adhere to, a page in the handbook or a few lines on a poster on the office wall. Whilst the influence of leadership on an organisation’s culture is undeniable, this is inherently a naïve way of looking at it.

A certain type of working culture can be aspired to and encouraged from above, but it’s the people experiencing it that make it happen. This is why a negative, toxic culture is so difficult to change, it’s so deeply ingrained in the people and if they don’t want to change then they simply won’t. This is especially true if the changes that you are trying to make don’t improve the things that they care most about, or the aspects that they feel are wrong.

Taking the time to understand the real needs and issues that your people have and then outlining ways to address them is the only way to bring about real culture change. In order to make it successful is to have advocates and champions within. Culture is learnt from those around, not dictated by those above.

A safe culture is a strong one

A genuinely inclusive culture and environment is one where all those within it feel comfortable being themselves. They feel safe bringing their ‘whole selves’ to work and confident that any issues they face will be listed to and be acted on where required.

It goes without saying that any kind of prejudice or discrimination have absolutely no place within the workplace These are toxic influences on safety and happiness and should be stamped out at the first sign of existence. However, there are plenty of other factors that can impact an employee’s feelings of comfort at work.

As a leader, the best possible thing you can do is ensure that you create and maintain an environment where your people feel that they have avenues of communication to air any issues or problems they might have. Often, people feel safest when they feel that they are listened to – that any problems they have aren’t a burden to their employer. This also puts you in a much better position in terms of understanding your people and the challenges they face, both professionally and personally. This is a powerful tool in building a better culture.

If you expect people to give you their commitment and hard work, then the very least you owe in return is to make them feel safe within your workplace.

Provide a shared sense of purpose

Positive working culture has been proved to play a big part in business success, driving positive results across all metrics. The chances are that within any organisation that is achieving great things, those achievements are celebrated across the organisation and credit shared throughout.

On the flip side, if those within an organisation feel too much of separation between them and the leadership then it is harder to make them care about the overall achievements of that company. If they don’t feel that they have a part to play in your future successes then why should they care about them? Without a shared sense of purpose, all you have is a lot of individuals who come to work so that they can get paid at the end of the month and this will never lead to the kind of working culture that will allow you to thrive.

Make your people feel part of the things that you achieve, make them understand the crucial role that they play in helping you achieve them and they will want to achieve more.

I guess really, the key to culture lies in the relationships that exist within your organisation. Do you have the kind of relationships that will allow you to understand what your people think should change within your culture? Do the relationships that exist within your organisation make everyone feel safe and comfortable? Do your people have the kind of relationship with your company that makes them feel part of what it achieves?

It’s so important that we get culture right. Poor company culture is costing the UK economy £23.6 billion a year and accounts for 34% of reasons people leave their jobs. Can you afford to lose the money and people that a poor culture could cost you? So, let’s stop dropping c-bombs without thinking about what culture really means and pretending that the words “we have a great culture here” somehow magically make that the case. Culture is real, it’s complex and it’s controlled by your people – it’s up to you to show them that you care enough to get them to buy-in to your way.

What we’ve been reading

The Culture Code: The secrets of highly successful groups – Daniel Coyle

The Four Elements that make Great Culture – Neilpatel.com

Why Organisational Culture Matters  – Impraise.com

How to change Workplace Culture – Professionalacademy.com

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