Culture's king in every business

By Alex Malley

Maintaining a productive and inspired workplace environment is no easy feat - it's an ongoing adventure
Culture is an organisation's soul. Getting it right is not only achievable, but crucial to lasting success.
Culture is an organisation's soul. Getting it right is not only achievable, but crucial to lasting success.

Getting it right is not only achievable, but crucial to lasting success. As a young employee I'd often listen to senior members of the business talk about the organisation's culture and its importance. They'd encourage us to embrace certain values and behaviours. By the time I'd returned to my desk, however, I would've already defaulted to my own way of being.

Why?

Because I was sceptical of the value of workplace culture; it just seemed like management's idealised and unachievable workplace nirvana.

How wrong I was.

Culture is an organisation's soul, its identity. And getting it right is not only achievable, but crucial to lasting success.

It doesn't matter whether you're a manager in a corporate workplace or a small business owner, developing an environment where people feel empowered to perform at their best and understand how they are expected to behave and treat others should be the topmost priority.

It is equally as positive for achieving business objectives as it is for individuals.

However, with a mix of varying ambitions, behaviours and personalities all working under the one roof, not to mention certain external forces that can impact a business, I'll hasten to add that developing and maintaining a productive and inspired workplace environment is no easy feat - it's an ongoing adventure.

So how do you create a culture that people not only accept, but genuinely believe in and value?

Don't change for change's sake When you take on a new management role you might encounter an existing culture that is positive and productive. But, eager to make your mark, you start implementing changes.

Never, ever let your behaviour contradict the organisational values - that's the ultimate leadership fail

This is a mistake. Only set a fresh direction if you genuinely believe it's in the best interests of the people and the business. If the culture is solid, look for ways to enhance it rather than reinvent it.

Employee input

Some colleagues will gladly embrace the fresh values you're aiming to prioritise (they are excited about the prospect of change). On the other hand, some might resist.

Reluctance can stem from any number of reasons, ranging from personality types through to lengths of tenure with the organisation.

Some people are just uncomfortable with change, or simply don't agree with the ideas you and your management team are presenting.

Whatever their reason for pushing back, your strength and empathy as a leader will be tested. This makes giving people the opportunity to voice their opinions so very important.

Carefully and respectfully consider what they have to say before officialising new expectations. This will take time, but it will ultimately best position you to make confident decisions and communicate your rationale leaving no questions or concerns unheard. Live it Never, ever let your behaviour contradict the organisational values - that's the ultimate leadership fail.

You'll lose trust, credibility and respect. It's so important to consistently embody the values and behaviours you are expecting everyone else to embrace.

Whenever I take on a new leadership role, I personally commit to two or three significant initiatives that will help illustrate the culture I'm aiming to develop. It helps to stimulate a positive momentum because, through my action at the top, I am emphasising I don't expect anyone to do anything I wouldn't do myself; that I genuinely believe in and live by our values.

Accountability

Calling people to account for behaviour that contradicts the values and behaviours underpinning the culture is essential. If you witness, or are informed of, a team or individual who consistently marches to their own destructive beat, don't hesitate to raise it with them. This responsibility doesn't rest entirely on the shoulders of the leader (you can't be everywhere).

Ensure each individual is aware they are accountable for holding others to account for any behaviour that goes against the culture's grain.

New recruits

Though a prospective employee's skills and past experience are of course essential considerations when recruiting for a role, avoid making these your only measure of whether they're the best person for the job. Your people mix is so important. You need to find a confidence that anyone you're inviting into it will complement the existing culture. This isn't about always looking to hire similar personality types; it's about finding a range of personalities to create an inspired and dynamic culture. For instance, if you have a team of creative thinkers, perhaps injecting someone who is more analytical and process driven could add value to the mix.

Empowerment

Integral in every inspired and productive culture I've ever been a part of or helped create is an environment where people feel empowered to generate new ideas and initiatives.

No one wants to feel stifled by being told "this is how's it's always been done".

With empowerment comes professional growth and the opportunity to develop your skill set and knowledge. In my experience, most people respond well to that kind of freedom.

Sure, everyone has a specific role and outputs they're responsible for, but if they are a consistent quality performer, reward their efforts with opportunities that further enable them to grow as a professional.

Offering additional responsibilities before an employee inevitably asks for them is also an effective way of acknowledging their performance hasn't gone unnoticed - you're telling them that you trust them to take-on more.

With the right culture in place, I believe you can confidently lead your organisation or team to new heights, and weather any storm.

Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia and author of the best-selling book, The Naked CEO

- NZ Herald

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