What is your secret to success? Entrepreneurs, sporting greats and successful business-people alike are almost always asked this same question at some point in their leadership journey. Inevitably, their responses boil down to a few consistent elements: hard work, resilience, and strong team culture.
We are taught from a young age that a champion team will always beat a team of champions, in that same manner, a positive and productive workplace culture will propel an organisation much further than endeavouring to succeed on the basis of a few key personnel.
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
And it's true. The culture of your workplace determines how people behave and interact with each other.
A positive workplace culture will result in environments centred around trust, respect and comradery. As you would expect, such an environment also fosters high employee retention and the improvement of individual and team performance. The flow-on effect is your positive culture signals to the market that you are an employer of choice.
On the flip-side, negative culture can be like a snowball - gathering momentum in its potential for destruction. Therefore, dealing with small cultural issues before they fester into a larger negative culture is paramount.
Negative culture can result in claims of bullying and harassment, high staff turnover, poor performance, loss of clients and revenue, and a toxic environment where people don’t want to work.
If your organisation has a 'negative culture snowball' forming, then you have some work to do.
Changing your Workplace Culture
There is perhaps no greater advocate for the importance of workplace culture than Richard Branson. His ability to drive success through his team is legendary, and his advice for others aspiring to do the same is simple.
"There is no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated."
Culture is largely influenced by the leaders of the business. The manner in which they behave will dictate the actions and words of others. Therefore, assessing the behaviours of your managers is an important place to start - this may include a self-reflection of your own personal conduct too.
From there you may need to invest in training, counselling or even replacing individuals who are detrimental to the environment you are endeavouring to create.
- Effective leaders should be good communicators who speak to employees in a respectful and polite manner. This doesn’t mean they can’t be critical of employee performance, it means when issues are discussed it’s not done in a demeaning, harsh or thoughtless manner. Talking with people and not at them is the key to effective two-way communication.
- Australian workplaces are becoming more diverse, and subsequently, employee issues are more complex. Managers need to understand that people come from different backgrounds and therefore will have differing views and values about how they should be treated. By getting to know employees, managers are more likely to develop effective individual relationships – there is no one size fits all approach to management. If you invest the time in building connections with your workforce, you will create a more positive work environment.
- Managers should recognise individual and team achievements. It’s human nature for people to seek validation and acknowledgement, which is why effective recognition from Managers can encourage employees to strive for further success. Employees often understand the business cannot financially reward people for quality performance, but they still need to be recognised for their efforts - this can be done verbally, via email, through company newsletter or intranet/noticeboards.
- Consistency and transparency are key criteria for effective leadership. Employees expect fairness and equity in their workplace. Unreliable expectations, varying standards or favouritism will not only contribute to a poor workplace culture, but will also foster destructive relationships between colleagues.
- Inject the fun factor!! Creating team building or enjoyable activities in your workplace is not just the role of the HR team. If the leaders know their people, they are best positioned to create effective ideas for events or undertakings that their teams will enjoy and embrace.
Apart from the integral role of the leaders within your workplace to create a positive culture, there are some other influences impacting on your employees the organisation should consider.
People perform better and are likely to be more motivated when they understand the end goals or the objectives of the business. Your teams don’t necessarily need to read your board reports, but including them in the 'big picture' will result in a greater buy-in and allow them to feel that their work has meaning. The self-worth of a team or individual has a huge impact on their enthusiasm and approach to work, subsequently playing a large role in creating a positive culture.
Do employees have the tools and support they need to meet the requirements of their role? You will commonly hear employees complaining their computer is too slow or they don’t have the assistance they need to work effectively. It is not possible to meet every employee needs. However, the organisation should be aware of any restraints that exist and engage in dialogue with staff to ensure they don’t feel ignored or that their needs are not important.
Providing a safe work environment is essential in creating a positive workplace culture. Not only must a business meet their legal obligations, but employers need to consider their moral obligation to ensure employees are free from harm when they come to work.
The expression “free from harm” may refer to their physical work area – i.e., machinery, equipment, tools, office furniture, vehicles etc. Ask yourself, are these resources in good working order and free from defects? If not, it’s time for an upgrade before you are faced with an accident or Workcover claim.
Also, are your employees “free from harm”? This relates to the behaviour of other employees. Staff have the right to expect their workplace is free from discrimination, victimisation, bullying and harassment and that they can go to work in an environment that promotes equality and respect.
Ensuring your workplace is free from harm is a crucial foundation element in developing a positive and productive workplace culture.