Enhancing Workplace Culture

Written by guest blogger: Steve Graham

A workplace culture is unique.  There are similar cultures, however, each one has individual attributes.  Great, good, bad, or downright horrible, each culture makes a statement about your organization.  In today’s highly connected society, word spreads fast about your values, mission, and the way you treat the people who work for you.  Culture will exist absent of a specific focus. Even the worst workplaces have a culture. These are often classified as, “toxic workplaces”.

There is no shortage of literature about great workplaces, work culture, and even the toxic places.  In this article, I will explore those attributes common to the best work cultures. My goal is to offer ideas that will enhance the workplace environment.

Culture is not a one-size-fits-all concept.  If you are trying to be Google, please stop!  Your industry sector, available talent, and even the geographic location are all influencers that help shape culture.  According to ERC, an HR consulting firm, allowing your culture to develop naturally, is one of the biggest mistakes organizations make.

Leaders are the bedrock in shaping workplace cultures.  They set the tone for how culture is created.  People need to feel connected in their workplace. On average, most of us spend more time at work than at home.  Organizational Psychologist agrees, that workplace culture must provide the six universal human needs to thrive: respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, and meaning.  In his book, Connection Culture, Michael Lee Stallard comments, “An organization’s culture reflects the predominant ways of thinking, behaving, and working.”

As you think about these six universal human needs, reflect on how each connects to workplace culture:

  1. Respect: An environment that encourages open communication.
  2. Recognition: An environment that values accomplishments.
  3. Belonging: An environment that cultivates engagement.
  4. Autonomy: An environment that is free of micro-management.
  5. Personal Growth: An environment that promotes career development.
  6. Meaning: An environment that allows the expression of purpose.

When exploring the attributes of enhancing culture in the workplace, there are commonalities that are present in organizations known for being great places to work.  In a recent article from Huffington Post, Dr. Michelle Rozen identifies seven characteristics of successful company cultures.  Dr. Rozen starts the list of characteristics with purpose.  Having a sense of why you do what you do is essential in a successful culture.  She comments about the role of purpose, “Purpose is an inspirational driver for engaging employees and communities. When a leader establishes a clear purpose for the organization, it will become the inspirational driver for engaging employees and so provide them with a concrete source for motivation.

Her list of characteristics also includes: communications, diversity, engagement, teamwork, and growth/development.  If the workplace has a focus on these characteristics, it is a foundation for a successful culture.  Take each of the characteristics and compare it against the six universal human needs. Are you balanced in your approach to each?  If not, this is a great place to start working on enhancement.

The organization, Great Place To Work, recently published a book titled: A Great Place to Work For All.  Their publication illustrates the connection between great cultures and the impact on their bottom line. The importance of leadership in shaping culture was also discussed: “In the emerging economy, leaders have to create an outstanding culture for everyone, no matter who they are or what they do for the organization. They have to build Great Places to Work For All.”  Creating a culture that maximizes the human potential accelerates performance.   The research compiled by Great Place To Work is a powerful resource for creating an exceptional work culture and demonstrating how it is worth the investment.

Enhancing workplace culture takes time.  It also takes a commitment to prioritizing resources to achieve the desired outcomes.  If you keep your people central to the mission, you will design a culture that works best for your organization.  There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas from other organizations that have an exceptional culture.  Borrow it, but customize to fit your environment.   A workplace culture is like a personality, where authenticity is essential.  A “one-size-fits-all” or “cut and paste” approach will not work in the long run.

The first step in enhancement is an evaluation of what you are doing and not doing.  Also, observe your competitors. What can you learn from them? Do they seem to have better talent? Do they experience lower turnover? Do they have a better public perception?   Resist the temptation to be something your organization is not.  A great culture is not about the perks.  This quote from IDEO, an international design and consulting firm founded in Palo Alto, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, sums it up: “Often, people want to write culture off as a slew of perks you might find at tech companies. But really, culture is about creating an environment that makes it possible for people to work together to come up with innovative products and ideas—the same products and ideas that drive revenue.”  Here is a suggested path to follow if you want a better workplace culture:

  1. Define who your organization is and live it every day!
  2. Establish an environment built on trust. If trust is not a core ingredient nothing else matters.  A Forbes article from Glenn Llopis, Design Your Workplace Culture To Go Beyond Engagement And Fuel Trust says, “Leaders who develop intimacy build trust by developing relationships with their people and placing employees at the center of an organization’s growth strategy.
  3. Encourage open communications—break down barriers that impede progress.
  4. Develop people. Have a strategic focus on talent development.
  5. Offer flexibility. Offer an environment that meets the needs of your people.
  6. Recognize people the way they want to be recognized. Be consistent.
  7. Celebrate successes and support your people in failures.

Workplace culture is important and takes time to develop.  Approach the process of enhancing workplace culture as ongoing.  It is never a completed task. Cultures must also evolve.  Keep the six universal human needs at the heart of your design.  Leaders are curators of culture. Be authentic. What works in Silicon Valley does not translate everywhere.  Workplace culture has a real connection to the bottom line, so treat it with the importance it deserves.  Observe your direct competitors. Often, they are most like you. There is value in understanding what works and does not within your competitive set.  Define your authentic self as an organization. Keep trust as a key element in designing the right culture. This will lead to innovation and a holistic relationship between your people and revenue.


About the author: Steve Graham serves as Vice President for Marketing, HR Business Partner, and college instructor. He holds graduate degrees in management and higher education. As a life-long learner, he has additional graduate and professional education in executive & professional coaching, health care administration, and strategic human resource management.

He is a certified HR professional with The Society for Human Resource Management, a certified coach with the International Coach Federation, and a Global Career Development Facilitator. His professional memberships include: The Society for Human Resource Management, the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, Association for Talent Development, and International Coach Federation. LinkedIn.com/in/hstevegraham

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