A significant number of leaders say their organizational cultures are deteriorating and they struggle to maintain morale and motivation. The culture has been difficult to maintain over the past two years. After all, it’s hard to nurture a common set of beliefs and behaviors when people are far apart and work is dispersed.
The talent revolution and the number of people leaving their jobs is perhaps the best evidence that organizational cultures are in trouble. People actively reassess why they work, what they do, how they work, where they work, who they work with, and for whom they work, and when the answers to their questions don’t align with their preferred experience or belief in the potential of their future experience with a company they are likely to leave.
The power of culture
Organizational culture is an essential criterion for people’s decisions to join, stay, leave or commit to their functions. As a shared set of beliefs and an accepted set of behaviors, it is “the way things are here” or “what people do when no one is watching.”
The ideal culture can be different for different people. She may prefer a more individualistic, high-speed culture with lots of recognition for difficult accomplishments. He may want a collegial culture focused on serving internal and external customers where there is plenty of feedback and reinforcement. They may seek a technical, evidence-based culture in which skill and careful decision-making take precedence. A perfect fit with the culture (what you value most is what the culture provides) is more important than particular attributes of the culture.
Of course, there are elements of any culture that make it more successful with better results for employees, customers and shareholders over time. These tend to be cultures where there is a clear sense of mission and direction, balanced with the ability for people to have a voice and participate in the future of the organization. Additionally, it is a place where there are clear and consistent processes and sound conflict management balanced with adaptability, learning and the ability to change as needed for customers and the market.
What is the problem?
But there are also many cultural problems. People report that they don’t feel connected or aligned with their organization – what’s important to them is something they don’t get from their work experience.
So what’s going on? And how can organizations give their organizations a boost in the arm of culture so they can attract, retain, engage and inspire people. Consider these issues:
Many people have been hired during the pandemic, which has created a challenge to engage employees and involve them in the work of the organization. Sure, it’s easy enough to make sure they have their laptop and understand their tasks, but unwritten rules are much harder to convey. Even if people aren’t new, they’ve been removed from the larger corporate context for so long that they may not have a clear sense of the standards that guide choices.
Your problem may not be that people get the culture wrong, it may literally be a cultural vacuum. People may somehow know what’s most important, but they may not have a compelling idea of what makes your business unique or their contribution special.
People understand culture through their immediate experiences with leaders and colleagues. The world of many employees has become smaller, and companies are reporting more silos in the workplace. People stayed in touch with the handful of teammates they regularly work with, but lost touch with other departments or colleagues they didn’t know were good to start with. This creates fragmentation because one team’s experience may be different from that of another department or even different from that of those reporting to another manager.
Fragmented cultures will struggle to pull themselves together. Everyone’s oar may be in the water, but it’s hard to row in the same general direction without the loud voice of a captain or bosun shouting out the shared rhythm of strokes.
Cultures can also be dormant. In the past, people participated in events that reminded them of their common purpose. City Hall highlighted customer wins and the semi-annual forum reminded people that they were all in this together as they competed for business and brought new products to market. Leaders could offer coaching on a walk to the coffee machine during a meeting break, and people could learn from co-workers by overhearing them on calls or leaning in to ask questions about the moment.
Many companies have successfully used online login approaches, but these approaches are not the same. They lack the shared buzz and emotional contagion of gathering, and the immediacy of working side by side and responding to the nuances of the day. Thank goodness for virtual experiences. They’ve saved lives and are good for some aspects of communication and connection, but they probably won’t be enough to sustain the culture long term. Of course, global companies or fully remote employers must successfully rely on connecting people virtually, but a combination of virtual and face-to-face connections is more ideal than remote connections excluding in-person opportunities.
If a culture is dormant, the norms, assumptions and values that make it what it is are still there, but they may be in hibernation – ready to be awakened or reset, but not something people can see or experience clearly without some effort.
How to renew, refresh and invigorate culture
Whether you have a cultural void, a fragmented or dormant culture. You can take action to move towards a healthy, strong and sustainable culture.
Evaluate and act
Like everything, you have to know where you are in order to improve, so evaluate your culture using an instrument or discovery efforts in order to understand what works well and what does not work well, and to understand its pluses. great opportunities for change. Then take constructive steps to improve.
Make culture visible
The classic model of organizational culture positions it as an iceberg in which many elements of culture are invisible, but palpable. You cannot see them, but you can still experience norms, assumptions and values. Raise things above the surface of the water by regularly talking about what you value and reinforcing the behaviors you want to see by discussing feedback and celebrating success. Be explicit, clear, and communicative about what matters, why you are taking the actions you are taking, and what success looks like. More discussion of more aspects of what is acceptable and preferred will strengthen people’s culture.
Hold people accountable
The culture is significantly determined by the worst behavior it will tolerate. For example, maybe you have a culture that values and respects people, but there’s this jerk that’s allowed to stay because he secures tons of sales. Or you’re a culture that values excellence and performance, but there’s this team member who’s super nice, but just can’t seem to do anything. People pay attention to exceptions to culture, so it’s important to be consistent in expectations, manage performance when it falls short, and celebrate when it does.
Any leader or team that has hired the wrong person will agree, hiring the wrong person is even harder than being without someone in the role. When selecting new people, be sure to assess their fit, but also the extent to which they will extend the culture and bring new thinking. You’ll need a balance of both: people who are aligned with what you value and who can move you to the new places you want to go. Ensure diversity and fresh perspectives, hire those who can perform well with others and contribute to your future as an organization.
Culture is a decisive element in terms of what matters for the success of an organization. It unites people around common beliefs and goals. It reinforces behavior. It motivates performance and encourages contribution. Culture is the glue that binds people together and to something bigger than themselves and makes them want to be part of the effort. Therefore, it is worth the time it will take to understand what works – and what has been lost – so that you can find it again and reimagine a better future because the culture is strong and constructive.