Workplace Culture is the way in which we do things around here – and it generates a sense that impacts on business performance, compliance, reputation and staff engagement.
I remember round the turn of the century I was carrying out a briefing (as a consultant) for a small team of executives from an expert firm. We were debating building fantastic workplace culture what really is workplace bullying. The majority of the senior team were getting passionately involved in the discussion. A lady executive who was not too passionately involved and obviously quite annoyed about the full time it had been taking to talk about this kind of’ineffectual’matter stood up and blurted’Actually all I do want to know is how far I will go before we call it bullying ‘. No unreasonable question but perhaps it had been the possible lack of thought and sarcastic tone in the delivery that drove me to react (and quite unprofessionally I might add)’Well how far do you want to go?’ I replied. And in addition she responded:’Well that’s what we are paying you to inform us Stephen Bell-HR Expert!’ Suddenly I was caught in the battle. There have been some smirks, giggles and’oh yeahs’from a couple of of the ten executives that were sitting round the table. All a sudden I was being hit at once by’the way in which we do things around here.’
This was, in fact, an opportunity for the Regional Director to stand up and indicate the organisational values. This was an opportunity for the HR executive to produce a speech about making this an engaging workplace for folks and the lines must be drawn by the value of our values. And then I, Stephen Bell (HR Expert!) could recite the definitions outlined in local OH&S guidelines. None of this happened. I did so lamely recite the values probably with a fraction the conviction the Regional Director might have and encouraged them to show to page 20 inside their manuals where they might find the area definition of workplace bullying.
The Regional Director and HR Director remained relatively silent; the discussion lasted another 20 minutes before we all cordially shook hands and splintered off inside our different directions to lead our different lives. I left with a specific feeling about this organisation -‘Arrogant, undefined about behaviour and culture, aggressive and rudderless, lacking leadership.’ Perhaps unfair judgements, but real and powerful feelings for me. And if’that moment’was indicative of the leadership behaviours,’arrogant, undefined about behaviour and culture, aggressive and lacking leadership’become justifiable descriptions of the workplace culture. And in’that moment’it was actually what was not said by the Regional Director and HR Director which was stronger than what was actually spoken by the lady executive.
I also left that session with a resolve never to walk into an exercise session about workplace bullying and culture without’my actors ‘. Yes those actor friends of mine ensure people can see what we mean by’within the line’rather than just discussing it. It was also then that I decided that iHR Australia and iHR Asia would start concentrating on assisting organisations to properly define their workplace cultures so that leaders could properly articulate what was meant by a desirable, compliant and productive workplace culture that attracts the kind of people we want. More importantly my actors will give them the ability to observe how they act each day features a direct impact on culture and subsequently on performance, compliance, reputation and staff engagement.
Defining workplace culture or the way in which we do things around here is an interesting process. It is approximately creating statements that align to organisational values but tend to be more active. The workplace culture statement is an indicator of the pattern of behaviours we want to see. Like a workplace culture statement arising from the often articulated workplace value’Respect’may be’We tune in to and analyse the professional views of others ‘,’We tune in to ideas and views from those around us or’We don’t personally attack individuals when providing them with professional feedback ‘. When developing’culture statements’may very well not cover every behaviour for each probable situation, nevertheless you leave leaders and employees within the organisation in no doubt what the’indicative behaviours’of the organisations workplace culture are.
Generally, organisations that are making the effort to clearly articulate what the workplace culture should appear to be are now actually becoming strategic about workplace culture. Meaning recognising that workplace culture can be a driving element in achieving organisational goals. They realise that culture can drive a variety of important components of the organisation. In order to explain the’business’impacts of a good, bad or indifferent workplace culture I’ve identified three key workplace culture areas of impact. Simply I am saying that workplace culture impacts on:
Organisation, team and individual performance;
Brand perception for current and future employees, customers, stakeholders and business partners;
Compliance, particularly the organisations ability to conform to policies and regulations.
In my own forthcoming articles I will explain why I believe workplace culture must be the main strategic agenda for organisations aiming for sustainable success.
In 2009 even as we start to emerge from the economic recession brought upon predominantly by an industry, and subsequently, workplace cultures where in actuality the unacceptable often became acceptable it’s interesting to ask ourselves where business cultures will see themselves in 2010.
Anticipating the danger is that leaders will feel compelled to immerse their organisations in practices that reduce risk and drive a conservative rigour that, will subsequently, stifle workplace cultures once labelled innovative, responsive and entrepreneurial.
Founding director and CEO of iHR Australia and iHR Asia, Stephen Bell is an entrepreneur, business leader and renowned facilitator. Under his leadership, iHR Australia has established a different client base which range from government to a lot more than 2000 multi nationals, large corporates, Start Ups/Greenfields and Not-for-Profit organisations across Australia and Asia.