Everyone has a different definition of work culture as it relates to a professional organization.
It is not easy to illustrate nor simple to define. From my perspective, work culture is a term that encompasses the behaviors, processes, capabilities, and habits of an organization.
A stale, negative work atmosphere may be a product of poor work culture. Conversely, an organization with an energetic, passionate, and effective workforce who is capable of achieving goals may be due to a positive culture.
Inherently, work culture is a complex concept. For better or for worse, I have the capacity for concepts with few parts. I need “A + B = C” type concepts – simple, and ideally represented with a conservative number of boxes and arrows. After all, as Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
With that, here’s my simplified interpretation of the complexities of organizational culture. Furthermore, it represents my thoughts on how to build a positive work culture. Below, in no particular order, are the critical elements of company culture.
Building a team
It is critical to get the right people in the organization. Build your team carefully, one person at a time. When you’re filling a specific role, skills and experience are important, but you must also consider whether or not an individual is a fit for the culture. The interview phase should clarify whether or not he or she is a positive fit.
During the interview, the potential employee may mention a passion project – you may identify one if:
- Their eyes light up
- They begin to speak animatedly
- They may not stop talking up about it
If you don’t identify a passion project organically, ask them about one. It is important to note that it doesn’t matter if the passion project is personal, professional, or academic. Most importantly, the topic of a passion project should elucidate what motivates that person.
When you identify a passion project, this is your cue to dig deeper and to ask questions. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll begin to understand what makes this person tick, who they might get along with, what team they’d work well with, etc.
On the other hand, if you never reach the point where the applicant gets excited about anything… keep looking.
Maintaining a team
You may not have the opportunity to create your own team. You may inherit some people who do not align with the culture.
Passionate people make the world go ‘round. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that people who aren’t passionate about what they do tend to be ambivalent about their work, company, team, etc. Worse still, they tend to be cancerous and toxic towards people that are passionate.
Overall, help the people that want to be there thrive, and help the people that don’t want to be there move on.
“Today, power is gained by sharing knowledge, not by hoarding it” – Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot
Leadership performs best when communicating the vision and when they are transparent. These dimensions of leadership build integrity.
To start, develop a clear, easily communicated vision. The, disseminate the vision across the organization early and often so that everyone can adopt it. This may feel like overkill, but the alternative is a workforce that can’t recall what the company is doing or why. Keep it simple, publicize it often, integrate it into your internal/external branding, mix it in the coffee, whatever.
“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity” – Dalai Lama
Be transparent about the strategy of the organization. Share the vision, the goals that lead to making the vision a reality, the decisions that led to the formation of those goals, and the data that informed the decisions.
It is an objectively bad idea to covet information or making decisions based on fear. Being honest and transparent will make you feel vulnerable, but do it anyway.
Also, being transparent builds the integrity of both the leadership and everyone in the organization. Integrity is great stuff. You’ll want it. It builds trust.
As Peter Drucker says, “Leadership is doing the right things; Management is doing things right.”
I see management as the force multiplier between the people and the vision strategy communicated by the leadership.
Effective management knows the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Managers should also know how to create tangible objectives to attain the company’s vision. Finally, they should use this knowledge to ensure their team understands the role(s) they play in achieving that vision. This not only clarifies the importance of a person’s or team’s work, but gives them meaning and a sense of accomplishment, which are critical for morale.
Managers are also responsible for defining the policies and procedures, rather, how work is implemented and delivered. This might take the form of adopting agile/lean, or some other framework for the iterative improvement of the work cycle. Overall, the performance of a team is a measurement of management effectiveness. Therefore, managers should pay close attention to their team’s output, in addition to the team’s morale and satisfaction.
Work Culture Conclusion
An organization with:
- Leadership who embodies transparency and clarity of vision
- People who are passionate and engaged in the vision and the work that they do
- Management who is empowered and efficient at defining and governing work
- Trust and integrity between all members of the organization at all levels
- Positive morale for all team members
- Progress towards the vision of the organization
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