Change can start with the individual

A great company culture can produce both an engaged workforce and a healthy bottom line, but everyone from the office assistant to the managing director needs to be involved. 

Poor company culture not only impacts on work-life satisfaction, but productivity. There’s little doubt it’s behind some of the stress that leads to the $35 billion a year cost of presenteeism in Australia, says workplace culture specialist Ross Judd, author of Cultural Insanity.

By comparison, a great company culture can not only produce an engaged workforce, but a healthy bottom line, he says. Unfortunately, many leaders and employees are confused about what that constitutes, or who’s responsible for it.

The reality, says Judd, is that everyone, from the office assistant to the managing director, needs to be involved in defining workplace culture and role-modelling it to boost performance and make their office a better place.

And with many Australians currently working remotely, company culture has become more important than ever, as employees are largely left to their own devices and seen only over video chat.

Good culture versus bad culture

Culture is the attitudes and behaviours people unconsciously adopt to fit in with the expectations of the people around them, says Judd.

“If someone walked into your company and heard everyone complaining about management it wouldn’t take long for them to start complaining about management,” he says. “The ability to role model others and adapt behaviour to fit in has been developed from childhood and is so deeply ingrained it is a natural and instinctive behaviour.”

But change can start with the individual. In a demoralised culture, employees may tackle problems with the attitude “it’s always been done like that before”, says career architect Edwin Trevor-Roberts, CEO of consulting firm Trevor-Roberts. “In a culture that encourages creativity and self-efficacy, their thinking may change to what else can we do to solve the problem.”

In our fast-changing workplaces, success is not about leaders having all the answers but solving problems as part of a team, he adds.

This becomes particularly pertinent when many company meetings and professional interactions are taking place over video conference. Leading effectively can mean making the space and creating the opportunities to make sure all team members, even the quiet ones, are being heard and listened to.

Aligning to culture with purpose

Defining the purpose, vision or mission of the business is key to creating a great culture. Why does the company exist? Without the daily routine of gathering at a place of work, clearly articulating and reinforcing that shared source of meaning becomes more vital than ever before.

“It may be to help people build financial security, or leave a legacy to their children,” says Judd. “That conversation needs to be had with representatives of everyone in the company until advisers are able to summarise purpose, in one phrase, or even one word, for example, client-centric.”

From there, it is possible to create a plan to move forward that aligns desired attitudes, behaviour, HR process, feedback and benefits with the new cultural model where employees are naturally more supportive, happier and welcoming and are achieving better results through better communication, co-operation, and interpersonal relationships, says Judd.

“That said, poor leadership will never lead to a successful business and employees can’t use telepathy to intuit culture. It has to be role modelled.”

Agrees Trevor-Roberts. “No one person can fix culture. A great culture is built on the idea that you are here to help each other succeed.”