Workplace culture is more than ‘the vibe in the air’. When walking in the door of any business, its culture can be observed and experienced from the behaviours, conduct, attitudes, words, principles, choices, experiences, relationships, principles, choices and incidents that exist or happen. As such, culture goes to the very heart and soul of a business.
Toxic, dysfunctional or lacklustre workplace culture
When it comes to workplace culture, much of corporate Australia has found itself on a slippery slide in recent years. There have been employee complaints, prosecution by workplace regulators, intrusive public enquiries, and humiliating Royal Commissions. Reputation, brand and values have been trashed. Sales, profiteering and greed have been exposed. Customer-centricity has been sacrificed, with increased customer complaints, poor customer service and increased product defects. Workplace conflict, disengagement, performance issues, bullying, discrimination, aberrant and unlawful behaviour have become endemic, with formal complaints against employers and employee turnover having increased to an alarming extent. The cost of all of this is inestimable. A slippery slide indeed!
Healthy, vibrant workplace culture
On the other hand, when a workplace has a vibrant culture, there will be harmony and maturity of relationships, everyone will be fully engaged, motivated and purposeful, leadership will be highly effective and respected, happiness and even joy will abound, behaviours will be ethical and proper, high performance will be delivered so that customers will be delighted, and product and efficiency will increase, together with revenue and profits (as a matter of usual course). Such a culture is the key to unlocking the door to business success.
Creating the right workplace culture
The good news is that workplace culture can be shaped and changed over time. All it requires is concerted effort. For doing so, there are seven key questions to be considered by the leadership and team members, namely:
What is our workplace culture like today? What do we want it to become? What changes can we make immediately? What changes can we make in the long-term? What outcomes do we want to see from making these changes? What is the role and responsibility of the senior executive for maintaining and enhancing workplace culture? What is the role and responsibility of board members in respect to workplace culture?
These questions are to be applied to each of the key aspects of the business to ascertain the overall impact of workplace culture, such as:
Team, customers, products and services, leadership and management, future strategic direction and planning, location and premises, equipment and infrastructure, and any other important aspects particular to the business and the relevant industry.
Under the leadership of the CEO, senior executive and board members can helpfully tackle this exercise first, followed by brainstorming with the full team to give a rounded, honest, big picture about what is right and wrong with any given workplace culture. Consider current weaknesses and concerns and, together, dream a dream of how much better culture can become moving forward.
Tips for maintaining and embracing a vibrant workplace culture
A vibrant workplace culture then needs to be built over time. For doing so, the follow tips may be helpful:
- Leaders must drive such culture and give it direction. They must be vigilant and directive in holding team members accountable for words, actions, behaviour, conduct, decision-making and relationships.
- Leaders can be guided by a written leadership charter which sets out, point by point and using positive words, agreed standards as to what they promise to say and do in the workplace. They will be held accountable by the team for compliance with the charter.
- Team members must intentionally build the workplace culture, day in, day out, in all they say and do. They are also to be guided by a separate, written team charter.
- A written customer charter can also be introduced outlining the standards expected of all team members when delivering product and service to customers.
- Workplace culture can be an agenda item at all leadership, board and team meetings, with everyone working on culture together through regular review, discussion and improvement.
- When recruiting new team members, focus on whether they conform with, and will add to, workplace culture.
- Ensure a quick exit for those team members who disrupt, or act inconsistently with, workplace culture.
- Monitor, measure and reward team members for their role in enhancing a vibrant workplace culture.
A toxic, dysfunctional or lacklustre workplace culture may suppress growth or even destroy a business. On the other hand, a vibrant workplace culture will increase benefit to all stakeholders and will help the business to really soar. It is the golden key to business success.
Written by David Sharrock.
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