Tips for Improving Culture in Your Organization

A lot of people spend a lot of time thinking and talking about improving the culture of their organizations. Many find, in talking about it, that culture represents a paradox. One on hand, people want to know “how things are done around here.” On the other, they don’t want to be thwarted in expressing their creativity and autonomy in getting things done.

In addition, there are often multiple cultures within an organization. The larger the firm, the truer this is. When people try to define their culture they get stuck trying to figure out how things get done and the fact is that there’s rarely one way.

Differences in behavior exist between departments or functional groups. A sales group, for example, is often “me” centered because companies reward rainmakers. By contrast, a production department might be more “we” centered because individual work is often interdependent. It is common for these two orientations to be at war within an organization and this conflict often triggers discussions about sick cultures.

Likewise, companies develop personalities that are shaped by the industries in which they compete and the personalities and expectations of senior managers. These can be distressingly changeable.

Given these realities, it’s tough to come up with a definitive answer to the question, “What’s our culture?”
How, then, to improve it?

A well-known multinational American company has created a culture of high expectations and a rapid work pace, where competence and results are prime. It is a very unhealthy environment for some and an exciting environment full of opportunity for others.

One could theorize that the “me” oriented people would thrive, whereas the “we” oriented workers would not. But this doesn’t appear to be true. When you step inside to talk to people, the stories they tell show that the quality of work is directly related to the quality of leadership. People don’t quit companies, they quit bosses.

A company’s culture must include non-negotiable behaviors that are modeled and taught by managers. If a company prides itself on candor, then so-called crucial conversations will be part of its daily operations and people will be taught how to participate in them. A company that celebrates innovation as central to its culture will fund experimentation and tend to forgive mistakes. Where collaboration is a prized cultural aspect, people are taught how to share their expertise and support the work of others.

Culture is a by-product of success, an agreement shared among people who understand what makes a company successful.

Unhealthy cultures develop when bad behaviors are tolerated. At any level. Using the examples above, when crucial conversations are avoided, experimentation is punished, or lone rangers run free, confusion, frustration, distrust and disengagement will result. That’s an unhealthy culture.

When organizations seek to improve their cultures, they need to address aberrant behavior quickly and effectively. Most people want to know whether their company will support their growth, provide feedback on a regular basis, and treat them fairly. A healthy culture will answer affirmatively and demonstrate commitment in doing so. An unhealthy culture will often say yes, but will tolerate or ignore behaviors that deny such a commitment.

Categories: Business

About Susan Marshall

founder susan marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.