Building a Kick-Ass Culture

What does organisational culture actually mean?

A quick Google search says that it’s those hard-to-pin down values, mindsets and behaviours which govern how teams work together. It’s also an influential factor when it comes to people’s engagement, productivity and satisfaction levels.

However, if you ask us, organisational culture is a double edged sword that can either be your competitive advantage or Achilles heel. Culture is the reason why one company’s profits are soaring and another is in the news for absolutely all the wrong reasons.

Many leaders will say that they have a great business culture. However, when you scratch below the surface, there’s a level of simmering dysfunctionality with a lack of honest communication, innovation and accountability.

Interestingly, there are currently more leaders getting their cultures wrong than right.

You only need to look at the Society of Human Resource Management’s ‘The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture’ report which found that:

  • 1 in 5 people quit their jobs due to a toxic culture
  • Staff turnover has cost organisations as much as US$223 billion over the last 5 years

If you want culture to be the reason why your business succeeds, here’s everything you need to know to build a kick-ass culture.

What Keeps Poor Cultures in Place?

The tell-tale signs that things are horribly wrong in your organisation is when people start exiting in rapid succession and those who stay are increasingly cynical.

Leaders may want to shift the blame onto teams when productivity drops. However, the first thing they should consider is whether there are systemic issues that are standing in their people’s way.

Here’s some systemic issues that keep an unhealthy culture in place: 

  • Fear – Is there a fear of reprisal, ridicule or failure in your business? If yes, just think of all the information you’re not getting because everyone is too scared to speak up!
  • Titles and hierarchy – Is there an over-obsession with title or status?
  • Obstructive Rules and Policies – Are teams too busy keeping in line to think and act innovatively?
  • Poor leadership – Do you know of managers who speak condescendingly or use threatening language to get work done?
  • Lack of trust – Is trust something that needs to be earned as opposed to freely given in your business?
  • Bullying and Gossip – Is backstabbing and whispering behind people’s backs tolerated?
  • Lack of honesty – Are you surrounded by ‘yes’ people who support bad ideas just because you suggested them?

We once worked with an Australian CEO who told their International President that their yearly goals were unrealistic due to a market slow-down. He ended up being fired for speaking up!

Talk about a toxic culture!

Unsurprisingly, out of the 8 leaders on the executive, only 2 remained in the business and both are the toxic culture’s maintainers!

Each of these systemic factors can wreak havoc on your culture and make your organisation a poor place to work at.

Look around your business today and notice how many of these issues are stopping your people from doing their work.

How to Create a Great Culture

You know you have a great work culture when your people are engaged and having fun.

Yes, it’s possible to have fun at work!

When people see work as a form of play, there’s greater ownership and commitment to their work, leading to increased productivity and improved work quality.

At Integrity and Values, we’ve found that these 7 workplace requirements need to be present for engagement and fun to happen:

  1. The degree of challenge
  2. Elbow room
  3. Opportunity for learning
  4. Meaningfulness of the work
  5. Mutual support
  6. Mutual respect
  7. Aspiration Vision and Values

Each element will mean different things to different people at different life and career stages. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to regularly ask their teams what they need to enjoy and do their jobs well.

Let’s walk through two of these requirements and share some conversation-starters that leaders can use.

1. The Degree of Challenge

To understand the amount of challenge an employee wants, ask these questions:

On a scale of 1-10, 

  • How much challenge do you want in your role?
  • How much challenge are you currently getting?

A CEO once told us he wanted a challenge at level 4 but was getting a 9. He was consistently overwhelmed and everyone walked on eggshells around him.

You can imagine what this stressful situation was doing to his people’s engagement and fun levels!

Ultimately, leaders want the difference between the desired and actual challenge to be zero, plus or minus one.

If people are being challenged too much, they’ll be anxious, stressed and likely underperform. If people get too little, they’ll disengage and mentally check out because they’re bored.

It’s up to leaders to support their people in finding that sweet spot between feeling challenged yet competent enough to do the work.

2. Meaningfulness of the Work

As leaders, ensuring people at every organisational level understand how their work contributes to the business adds meaning to their responsibilities.

To understand how your people feel about the meaningfulness of their work, ask these questions:

On a scale of 1-10, 

  • How much of a contribution and difference do you want your role to make?
  • How much of a contribution and difference do you think you’re currently making?

Leaders should aim for the difference to be zero, plus or minus one. When people can see how their work pushes the business forward, there’s a real ownership over their tasks, leading to increased productivity and higher levels of performance.

Contact us if you’d like to know more about our Engagement Tool and one of our leadership expert can run you through the other 5 elements.

How to Intervene in a Poor Culture

When people stay long enough in their own organisational system, they’ll see everything as true and accurate. Old behaviours go unquestioned and, even when they are, there’s a strong resistance to change due to fear.

It takes a burning platform like high staff turnover, poor customer relations and rapidly declining profits to create a sense of urgency to trigger change. Despite this, some leaders will choose to put their strategies, products and people under the microscope instead of acknowledging that their poor work culture is to blame.

Many more will struggle to accept that they themselves have personally contributed to the culture’s decline.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for some leaders. However, it needs to be acknowledged that, when leaders continuously act a certain way or allow toxic behaviours to permeate, their actions will cascade down the business and become “the way we do things around here”.

This is why Integrity and Values’ cultural interventions start at the top with organisational leaders and their belief systems. We work through their mindsets and behaviours, and highlight the impact that this has on their business. We then work together to develop new actions and practices that are aligned with their new desired culture.

Small Interventions to Try Now

Cultural change is challenging and leaders benefit greatly from being guided through an intervention.

However, if you’re looking for some simple yet effective interventions to test the idea of cultural change in your organisation, here’s 3 you can try:

  1. Change your language – Instead of telling people that they’re wrong, ask them to walk you through their thinking process and collaboratively discuss new ways of approaching the work better
  2. Don’t blind side people – If you need to have a difficult conversation, do it tactfully and respectfully by preparing them for things that may be hard to hear. For more on how to successfully run a difficult conversation, check our Robust Conversations webinar.
  3. Seek feedback – Openly solicit feedback from your teams and learn what you can do to support their work. In our ‘Awareness Interviews’, we have our leaders ask questions like ‘what can and can’t you rely on me for?’ to see how they can empower their people more effectively.

If you’re interested in our Awareness Interview, contact us and one of our leadership consultants will share the tool with you.

Change Requires Commitment and Patience

Organisational change is not something that leaders can leave to others. In a time where there is an intense war on talent and fierce business competition, it’s essential that leaders are prioritising an engaging and fun work environment that their people love to be a part of.

There are no short cuts or silver bullets when it comes to cultural change. However, the good news is that leaders don’t need to go it alone. With the right support and guidance, creating a workplace culture that increases productivity and your bottom line are very much within reach.

Watch Now

The recording for this presentation is now available and you can watch it here – Building A Kick-Ass Culture Recording

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