Do You Care for Your Tone?

Reviewing Your Organizational Culture

“I don’t care for your tone!” Most of us probably heard this scolding utterance at least once from an adult when we were kids. Now that you’re a grown-up in a leadership role, one hopes you don’t hear it too often. But what about your organization’s tone? Do you care for it?

More specifically, we’re referring to organizational culture. In a nutshell, this is the tone (and style) of your work environment as created by the values of your organization and the behaviors of its employees. Every workplace has one and, every so often, it’s good to reflect on both the good and the bad.

It matters, increasingly

Organizational culture can be a contentious topic. Some may question the importance of focusing on a “meta” topic like this when there are so many other competitive challenges to an organization. Yet there are signs that, increasingly, culture matters to both management and staff.

For instance, in the 2012 report Culture in the Workplace from consultancy Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees stated a belief that a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. The report also found a correlation between workers who believe their organizations have a “clearly articulated and lived culture” and those who report being “happy at work.”

Another reason organizational culture is important nowadays is the constant need for innovation. Few, if any, organizations can survive in the 21st Century without innovating in some way — even if it’s just gradually tweaking their products or services to keep up with customers’ wants and needs.

Another recent consultancy study, the 2012 Insigniam Corporate Culture Report, found that a substantial number of executives, 47%, pointed to their organization’s culture as the biggest roadblock to innovation. Is your tone holding you back from that next “aha!” moment?

4 sides: A framework

As you might expect, getting your arms around something as intangible as organizational culture isn’t easy. One way to make it a little more manageable is to approach it under the following four-sided framework:

1. Management to management. Every organization’s values and much of its behavior begin with management. When managers work well together and appear at ease in one another’s company, employees pick up on this and will likely be more relaxed and confident themselves.

In contrast, constant bickering in the corner offices, highly noticeable power struggles and heavy turnover will cause staff to feel uneasy and may give them the tacit go-ahead to behave similarly. This can have a crushing effect on productivity and morale.

2. Management to staff. Look at how each manager deals with his or her respective departments. (You may already be doing this during your annual review process.) Managers who are on good terms with their employees and can speak to them in a relaxed, friendly and frank manner are probably contributing to a positive culture.

Meanwhile, regular conflicts or even just an excessive degree of coldness can have a chilling effect on culture. Also dangerous are managers who isolate themselves from their staffs. In these situations, a culture can deteriorate into a free-for-all, “anything goes” environment where everyone is on a different page and too little is getting done.

3. Staff to staff. How do your employees get along with each other? Are things fairly peaceful at the moment or are you seeing an alarming rise in conflicts or turnover? Are social events well attended or are staff members starting to withdraw?

These are all important questions to ask. When it comes to employees, organizational culture can be a bit like the thermostat in your home. Sometimes you have to turn it up to warm things up and get people talking and interacting. Other times, you have to cool the environment down a little to keep people focused and productive.

4. Staff to customers. Don’t forget about the ultimate end-result of your culture! That is, how does it affect your clients or customers? A fun, free-wheeling, informal culture can draw a certain clientele but confuse or frustrate another. Then again, a tense work environment can rub off on customers, who may find themselves dealing with brusque or defensive employees.

Finding the right balance means going back up to the executive level and reviewing the values of the organization and its approach to doing business. You may need to tighten up your culture if “the party has gotten out of hand.” But you could also need to reassure staff that you trust their judgment and give them the freedom to interact with customers according to their own styles.

Productive solutions

As you review your organizational culture, try to pinpoint specific problems. Use careful language to describe them. Doing so will make it easier for you and your management team to devise productive solutions.

When you’re ready to apply those solutions, be sure to clearly explain your efforts to staff and get their buy-in. Culture change rarely, if ever, works when a distant, vague command comes down from the executive suite and employees are simply expected to fall in line.

Help is available!

Need some help? Performance Dimensions Group is dedicated to optimizing your organization’s productivity by helping you attract, engage, develop, align and retain top-performing employees. And a big part of doing so is fully understanding organizational culture — and targeting ways to improve it. You can contact us here.