So you think you can change? If your culture needs to change or to improve the place to start is where you are: in current culture. What is the way we do things around here? Understanding the behaviors, but also deeper beliefs and values is essential before you start.

When I asked participants of the Positive Culture Academy what was normal in their current organizational culture they came up with many examples. Do you recognize any of these situations below?

Please note: some of these things may seem trivial. But they can matter nevertheless: people copy each other in a group, conscious or not. So if trivial behaviors are repeated over and over, everyone starts doing it and the behavior spreads through the organizational system. It becomes the way we do things around here. If that “way” is not the way to a thriving future, if it’s not positive enough, you need to take action.

Check your culture for these behaviors. And start doing things differently, if you want to develop a more positive and productive culture.

Going through the motions

“Right now, our team culture is to be heads down and do our jobs”, Jean reported. “We are not focused on how we can add more value or do our jobs better. Part of this is due to the fact that we might be acquired, but most of it is because of leadership. We all performed above 100% of our goals last year, but the majority of the team only received “Successful” performance ratings (which influence our bonuses and pay increases). The lack of recognition of the team members going above and beyond has influenced performance. People are not willing to put in extra time or effort anymore, because they do not feel like they will be recognized or compensated for their effort.”

“Personally, instead of using positive words to describe what we do, I was using “We just…”. Putting the “just” in the sentence negates what we are doing and makes it seem unimportant. I have been speaking like this when people ask me what I am doing for work. I am obviously not very proud of who we are, what we are doing, how we are doing it, or why.”

The way they work is heads down, going through the motions, not very inspired of proud. Imagine how this affects performance in the long run! Jean’s solution, for now: “I know that when I am positive, supportive, and a good role model, the team becomes more positive and motivated. I wish this positivity and motivation would also come from leadership, because not having them behaving in the same way makes it hard to care.” Another solution would be to have a conversation with the team leader, first, and express this feeling. Maybe this would be all they need to become aware of how team members perceive the situation, and that they need some more recognition.

Saying – doing gap

This one is an oldie: we say one thing but do the other, as George shared: “We are not respectful of other people’s time: We have a very poor meeting culture and tolerate missed deadlines, half delivered results and broken promises- we don’t hold each other to account. Our culture is made up of a lot of tolerated behaviors, symbols and messages that are contrary to the ‘values’ and our vision and systems (like the performance management program) that don’t support the culture we say we want. The current culture supports mediocrity and turns off our talented people.

George’s solution is: “I personally try to role model the behaviours that supports the kind of culture we want. I also work with a group of 40+ “Change Champions” and we create a network of role models and champions: we try to coach others to reinforce a positive culture. I’m also meeting with some of the senior leadership team who are the culture advocates and ask them to coach others on positive accountability.”

Procedures rule – not ideas

“Policies and Procedures (P&P’s) rule the roost and usually members of senior management are the only ones who challenge ideas during meetings. No one else does! That’s the way we do things around here”, is Max’s experience.

“We say we strive to be experts, continuous learners, and provide excellent service, with respect for all. However, we bury ourselves in P&P’s, signoff on code of conduct, and talk about market differentiation. But accountability for expected behavior is not enforced. The current culture is dense with meetings and emails. It negatively impacts performance because it doesn’t really feel safe to challenge others or question their “why”. This limits idea sharing and the full exploration of ideas.”

Max’s contribution: “I work to increase others’ comfort level with challenging others respectfully and raise the bar for respect. I tactfully question decisions in meetings, asking “why” and “what if” follow-up questions. I respond with thank you’s for the explanations and/or compliment the work performed. Slowly but surely, this influences what is normal during team meetings.”

Individual ideas – shared priorities needed

Sylvia’s current workplace culture is positive with sharing good news and congratulating colleagues on successes. “We have a “go for it” attitude in encouraging folks to take on new challenges. But also: being late for calls, meetings, internal deadlines. I guess that’s accepted because your busy with another challenge. You go for it. This propagates a lack of accountability by showing newer employees that it’s normal and acceptable to be late when you’re pursuing another goal.”

“We have a mission-driven organization and a clear sense of the who we are and what value we add, but we often wrestle with different ideas about how to do something, and with competing priorities impacting the timeframe.”

Sylvia is addressing this individualism. “I hope to help encourage a culture where people feel personally accountable to their colleagues for communicating proactively and meeting internal deadlines. I try to lead by example. I try to be a good listener and provide team members with a sounding board for problem solving, and constructive suggestions when they ask for input.” Another option could be to spend the first 30 minutes of a meeting to answer a question like: What could we do together that none of us can do alone? Or, What are the shared priorities and how are we going to make them happen? If that’s not enough, they could convene to solve this topic and do a shared-purpose-and-priorities exercise.

Often, the simplest solutions can be the best to make a culture more positive. Babysteps might start a “positive spiral” and people “get the vibe” and start improving “the way we do things around here”.

  • What could you do in your workplace?

Do you want to learn more about positive leadership, culture, and change? Join this Positive Culture Academy. Many people are starting in September, if you want to learn with others! That’s why we have a special, temporary offer. Check it out! The curriculum can be done self-paced as well. Help your team or organization develop its positive potential.

© Marcella Bremer, 2018. All rights reserved.

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