Blog post,  Communications professional,  Leadership

Changing the culture of an organisation

I have been thinking a lot about culture lately and what impact it has on an office (and the people in it). The culture you have can mean the difference between a happy, productive, high performing team and a negative, drama-filled, poor performing team.

Culture is a funny term. Everyone seems to have a different definition, and very few can actually articulate what their culture is. So, let’s start there.

What is culture?

Every organisation has its own unique personality, just like people do. This personality can be referred to as “the culture”. In groups of people who work together, organisational culture is an invisible but powerful force that influences the behaviour of everyone in the organisation. It defines the environment in which staff work, and includes a variety of elements, including the purpose, objectives, values, behaviours, structure, systems, tools and processes. In short – it is the way we work.

Culture is the set of behavioural norms and unwritten rules that shape the organisational environment and how individuals interact and get work done in that environment.

CEB Gartner

Everyone has a role to play in building the organisation they want to work in. The Executive will set the strategic direction and establish the approach to delivering the culture, but all staff have a role in ensuring it is implemented in day-to-day practices. Quite often when the culture has gone bad the management are the ones that are blamed but everyone has a role to play.

What can I do?

A positive workplace culture attracts and retains talent, drives engagement, impacts happiness and satisfaction, and affects performance. In a negative culture, there is more gossip, undermining behaviour, excessive absenteeism, strained relationships, and less productivity.

People are resilient. You can deal with a difficult Executive. You can deal with conflict with a colleague. You can even deal with not loving your boss. But you can’t survive in an organisation where you don’t feel a connection to the culture. It’s a personal choice, what suits one person may not suit another. What is hard is articulating what it is that you do or don’t like about a culture.

What can you do as a communications professional and a staff member if you know your organisation has some cultural issues?

Start local: Don’t try to change the whole organisation in one go. Start with your team. Talk to your colleagues, your manager or staff. Be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation. It starts with trying to articulate what isn’t working and what you can change. What is within your circle of influence and what would have the biggest impact for your group.

Call out bad behaviour: I don’t know how many times I have said this in my role as a manager. When you accept bad behaviour, you are part of the problem. It is not up to the boss to always be the bad cop. Everyone in the team can say “hey, that’s not ok.” People learn certain behaviours through either the rewards or negative consequences that follow. When a behaviour goes unchallenged, it is seen as acceptable not just by one person but by everyone around them.  If you don’t like gossip, bullying, inappropriate comments – say something. It doesn’t have to be done in a confrontational way, it can be as simple as shutting down the conversation or saying “I don’t think that’s appropriate in the office.” If you don’t call it out, why do you expect anyone else to?

Demonstrate the culture you want to work in: People learn culture by interacting with others. So be the culture you want to work in. If you want to work in a really positive, collaborative culture, then guess what? You have to go out and collaborate, even when others don’t do it with you. If you are the one gossiping and being negative about everything and everyone, then you are part of the problem. You know the saying ‘be the change you want to see’…well? Why do you expect others to act differently if you don’t?

Making the change

A new culture will not be delivered overnight. It is a long-term journey, and you can’t do it on your own (although it is a great place to start). In my previous job, I joined a coalition of like-minded people and campaigned for a change in our organisational values – how we worked together and what we stood for. It was probably one of the most positive pieces of work I have ever done. It was something we were all committed to and championed together in our individual teams and across the organisation. Cultural change does start with you, but it’s even more effective when it spreads because a group of you sought to make a change.

My final message is this. Don’t wait for a culture to change. Either stand up and try to effect change yourself or get out. If your values don’t align with the organisational culture, they probably never will. You either need to commit to changing them because you believe it’s possible or you need to find an organisation where there is a better fit.

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