The Culture Trap

In our business, we start to notice trends. How can’t we? Leaders from a variety of organizations contact us with challenges and growth points – and over time we start to see some similarities. In the area of recruitment and retention, a buzz word we often hear is workplace culture.

All too often we hear leaders lament about their workplace culture. “We have invested so much time and money into bean bags, sit-stand desks, ping-pong tables…” the list is seemingly endless. They’ve looked at the places where people long to work – architecturally interesting, beautiful and fun places – and tried to incorporate some of the features of these companies. But while these investments can and sometimes do work – they’re not culture.

A lot of planning and effort go into building a strong workplace culture. Well, at least a lot of planning and effort should go into building a strong workplace culture. And by planning, we’re not talking Googlesque features of slides and fully stocked fridges. Because while perks of all shapes and sizes are great ways to attract and retain amazing talent, they’re not enough on their own.

Perks are just things. Yes – they’re amazing, but all too often leaders put too much value in these – confusing them for culture alone. Which they aren’t.

In a recent Forbes article, workplace culture is defined as follows:

“Culture is the environment that surrounds us all the time. A workplace culture is the shared values, belief systems, attitudes and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share. This is shaped by individual upbringing, social and cultural context. In a workplace, however, the leadership and the strategic organizational directions and management influence the workplace culture to a huge extent. A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises the morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce. Job satisfaction, collaboration, and work performance are all enhanced. And, most importantly, a positive workplace environment reduces stress in employees.”

That sounds amazing, right? But, as a leader, how can you make this happen?

To build a strong workplace culture, leaders need to really consider the type of people that will benefit the goals and vision of their business – and then think like those employees and work to attract that mindset. The first step towards building a thriving workplace culture is introspection. Smart leaders ask themselves:

1. Where do we see ourselves in one, five and ten years?
2. What character traits are we lacking in our current team members? What character traits are similar across our highly productive team members?
3. Does our work require a lot of energy and creativity? Or, do we need quiet time for contemplation and concentration?
4. What existing companies are we attracted to? Why?

These questions, though simple, can get leaders to dig deeper. Which is important, because business culture isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing.

Once leadership has a clearer understanding of who they are – and want to be – they can get to work at building their culture. Again – we’re not talking about the way your office looks – this is icing on the cake and can and should reflect your business brand {eventually link to a blog on brand}. Here, we’re talking about leadership.

So one more question and this one is the cornerstone of workplace culture:

5) How do you lead? Are you micromanaging? Are you encouraging open dialogue? Believe it or not – this question is what gets you to the good stuff. Because the really amazing workplaces- the ones that attract and retain top talent, who produce amazing products and services, and who make a profit, they’ve got leaders committed to building a culture that supports those objectives.

Here’s a shot that candidly captures BarnRaising Dynamics at work!
We don’t take ourselves too seriously and have fun – which lets us get sh*t done!

Strong workplace cultures are focused on a number of key elements, including:

Respect – both between leadership and team members, as well as among team members

Well-being – both while at work and at home. While we’re not expecting that everyone in the office is a BFF, cultures that thrive are made up of individuals who genuinely care for one another. This includes both during times of stress or need, as well as in times of authentically celebrating others’ successes.

Mantra – most businesses have long MVV (mission, vision, value) statements posted somewhere, or everywhere, that are full of a lot of corporate jargon. Skipping this and building a mantra that the whole team can get behind is a key component to culture building.

Buy-in – workplace culture only works if everyone believes in it. The whole team  must both buy into and feel like they are a valued part of creating and maintaining it. Finding ways to encourage, empower and equip your team members in this way is paramount to building the culture you’re after.

Example setting – leadership has to, well, lead. And great leaders lead by example. If you want an open, honest, respectful culture that supports well-being, then guess what work you need to do? You need to model that behaviour yourself. If you can’t – go back to those questions – especially number five – and get real with yourself. Then, either change your expectations or your leadership style to build the culture that will benefit your team.

Once all of this is done, then you can begin to focus on the fun things – which become part of the culture instead of random and bizarre additions that don’t make sense, and therefore, unsurprisingly, don’t work. Who knows – maybe that slide is exactly what your culture needs after all.

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