Here's Your Creating Culture Crash Course

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Creating a supportive, engaging and fulfilling environment at work is important for everyone. When you feel safe (physically, intellectually and even emotionally), experience a sense of belonging at work and have the values of the business align with your own it’s almost hard to measure how much more effective you are.

But trust me, it’s a lot!  

From developing new ideas, to taking creative risks and even just the amount of care you put into the people you serve - it’s all just better. Economists try to measure this and use the variables like GDP on a macro level and “labor productivity” for firms. They try to use tricky ways to figure out which environments create the best levels of output at all levels. Odds are you’re not an economist and I’m only the self identified armchair variety but, I have some ideas to help you positively affect culture wherever you are right now.

From businesses of one (especially businesses of one) to Fortune 100 companies taking the time to deliberately address your culture a critical function for the business. I figured that since it was a new week, and that you probably have a ton of stuff on your to-do list already, that I would help by giving you some interesting perspective on what’s happening in your working environment. And, how to uplevel it a bit.

I have been talking to a lot of businesses that have been focused on creating culture, or at least looking for some insights on creating culture lately. Culture is one of those issues that should be addressed early on and gets brushed aside because it’s easier to focus on real things like fulfilling orders and meeting deadlines. Easier because they have a start, end and there's something to track when you’re done. Culture is more fluid and squirrelly because it grows and changes from moment to moment. Since it’s harder to track it often gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

Let’s change that.

Before you can change something you should get a handle on what your current culture is now. And, before you can do that let’s try to flush out what we mean when we say “culture”. Typically, culture in a work or an organizational environment is often shrouded with overly excited (yet generic) facilitators and one too many trust falls. You are not going to find ice breakers here - sorry.  

For the sake of ease and for readability let’s get a handle on what culture might entail. The culture in your professional (and sometimes personal) space can be understood by looking at all the different experiences people have while they are interacting and engaging. It’s how people communicate with each other, it’s office protocol, and it’s even how an office is physically organized. Culture is created by how managers lead or reward behavior and the kind of values they project. If you are looking for a theme here it’s pretty much the experience you have while you are interacting on the clock and can even bleed into how you do your job.

What happens when you aren’t happy with it or would like to illicit some change?

Here are a few insights I have for you to consider.

1. Ask why.

Much of what culture is has to do with what you do and are expected to do each day. Challenge what’s happening now and also why a change is important or beneficial. It’s easy to change an office protocol, a title, a role, and a schedule. But think about what happens when people aren’t ready to jump on board. You get empty follow through. Understanding along every step helps your stakeholders own what’s going. When there is a deeper connection then the change is more impactful.

2. Make the best of what you have.

It’s not always a room full of bean bag chairs and foosball tables that make a culture more engaging. Think about the hardware that you are working with and how it’s organized. Then think about what you are looking to change. How can you organize your physical space to illicit things like more collaboration, more efficient, or even more independence if that’s what you are looking for. Then if you feel like you still need more try to find deals - always work with what you have first.

3. You won’t win everyone all at once.

Change is never easy so it’s your job to help manage expectations and how people receive the change. Biggest part is not to force it. Just like in the first point, if people don’t own the why then all you get are the motions. If you are striving to change your office from being sales driven to being value delivering you have to understand that it won’t happen overnight. Values and mission can take some time but as a facilitator of change it’s your responsibility to constantly educate and lead by example. I can’t tell you how many offices I’ve seen try to do just this - go from selling to value. It can be difficult especially when a sales team feels that their own bottom line is threatened. So, you have to understand not just how the change will affect the office but how it will impact all of the individuals.

4. Lastly is showing that alternatives can be worse.

One of my favorite books on the subject is Who Moved My Cheese. It’s a story about mice and little people running a maze looking for cheese. It’s a story about complacency and how scary change can be. It’s also a story about showing you that unwillingness to change can lead to starvation and if you are expecting the change then you can manage it better. With an office culture people might not be afraid of starving but how might current trends point out? How can you illustrate to your stakeholders that without this shift in corporate culture that something worse could be closer than they think. Or better still how can the shift in culture make things better - who doesn’t respond to a good incentive.

Culture isn’t created it’s nurtured. Changes might not happen overnight because people don’t change overnight - most of the time. If you are looking to shift your office culture to a better place then you have to be patient and be ready to do a lot of explaining.

My advice is to skip the camp counselor antics, have respect for people's time, and move from a place of compassion. You have to exemplify the change so that other people can see the value and the reward of it. It’s not impossible but with a little office-geographical-trickery and some real value points you can give yourself a head start. Plus showing people that when customers/clients are happy then everyone is happy (including happier bottom lines) isn’t a bad place to start.