corporate culture

As a speaker, author, and executive consultant I work with leaders at all levels of all kinds of organizations.


Because of my strong culture focus, it is impossible for me to go into an organization without automatically assessing the culture of their work environment. I observe and listen for how people are expected to behave, how people perform, and how they leaders and team members treat each other and customers.


I often hear about practices and norms that exist which do not support the creation of a powerful, positive, productive culture.


All organizations have a culture, for better or worst. Whether an organization has intentionally created their culture or that culture evolved by default, that culture is tangible and observable. If your culture was created by default, it is likely that unintentional values or norms exist. If you consistently see conflicts, blame, poor performance, and frustration, your culture is eroding employee morale with every passing minute! Let’s look at two very powerful systems which may reinforce undesirable values and behaviors in your organization.


Rewards and Incentives


Whether you have formalized values and valued behaviors or not, rewards and incentive systems reinforce behaviors – some good, some not good. For example, if you desire a team-based culture but your organization offers only individual compensation, you will likely see “I win, you lose” behaviors by team members.


One municipality I worked with years ago had reserved parking close to the front door for leaders of the organization. One spot was reserved for a non-manager: “Employee of the Month.” Whichever employee received that recognition was able to use that “up front” parking spot for the month. It was a coveted parking spot.


During a leadership program I overheard some managers complaining about the woman that won the most recent Employee of the Month award. The woman was very difficult to work with. She wasn’t nice and she wasn’t responsive. I jumped into the conversation and asked, “Why would you give this poor employee that award?” One of the managers said, matter-of-factly, “Oh, it was her turn.”


<awkward pause>


Recognition and Messaging


Every time you publicly celebrate someone for a behavior or action, you reinforce that behavior or action. If you recognize a player for goal accomplishment but everyone knows that they’ve taken inappropriate short cuts (for example) to reach that goal, you reinforce – even nurture – undesirable actions.


Even praising the RIGHT behavior can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. One client celebrated a staff member who learned the wrong materials had been shipped to a client. That person packed the right material and drove to the airport just in time for overnight shipment by UPS. Recovery was expensive but the materials arrived on time.


The client celebrated this terrific proactive solution and such recoveries became more frequent. The client realized they needed to celebrate solving the “why do we ship the wrong materials?” problem more than celebrating the recovery!


You don’t have to be a division head to create values clarity in your own workteam. If you experience unintentional values in your workplace, start setting values expectations now.

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