Organizational Culture—You Do Make a Difference

Welcome to Week 7 of the SOS Leadership Blog Series:
Creating a Positive Organizational Culture
Next week we’ll wrap up our blog series about engaging employees, boosting morale, and creating a dynamic culture. We have an awesome lineup of guest bloggers, some of the best and brightest HR folks around! Come back each Friday to hear their words of wisdom. If you need to be reminded, follow SOS Leadership on Twitter and like us on Facebook, and we’ll let you know when the blogs are posted! Happy Friday!!!

Today’s inspirational blog post entitled Organizational Culture-You Do Make a Difference is by Alicia Robertson, MSOLE, Director of Mission Integration for the Seton Healthcare Family.

When you think about the word culture, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think about different groups of people around the world or in your hometown. What people eat, what they wear, how they talk, and how they love are all examples of societal cultures. But what about when you think about an organizational culture, what do you think of? Do meetings start on time, or do they perpetually start 15 minutes late? Do people small talk in the elevator or smile at each other as they pass in the hallway? Does your boss email you at 2am or on the weekends, yet talks about work/life balance? Do people leave early or stay late every day? The answers to those questions exemplify an organization’s culture. It’s the “how we do things around here” response.

At first glance you probably don’t realize just how much influence you have on “how things are done around here.” People automatically think that it’s the leaders of an organization that really define a culture. While partly that is true, after all they do set the requirements for hours worked in a week, etc., there are more strong influencers in an organization than those who hold C-level positions. Organizational culture is created by each and every person on the payroll. We all have leadership influence whether we logistically lead a team of people or not. If you call a meeting to order, what time does it start? If you receive and email on the weekend, do you respond? Or are you the one sending an email in the middle of the night? What expectations do you have of yourself and others with whom you work?

To get to the bottom of a culture, you have to look at your own “stuff” and the individual accountability you have to yourself and others. It simply is the name of the game when it comes to creating or changing a culture. Will you continue to promote certain behaviors? Do you have the courage to stop those you don’t like? Have you become so acculturated into your organization that it’s hard to tell the difference between what is and what should be? These are difficult questions to ask yourself, but are a must before looking at someone else as being responsible for “how things are done around here.” Absolutely, key leaders have influence in some areas of culture, but the rituals, the language, the attitudes of the collective are much more influential than any one person’s words or behaviors…over a long period of time.

Culture is really both a product and a process. It’s the what we do and how we do it. For companies that have been around for a long time, it can represent hundreds of years of expertise and wisdom from what worked well and what didn’t. It is something that is passed down from long time employees to new hires. This includes the really good stuff, as well as the really bad stuff. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” (2002), you can see how a collection of little bitty things can make a huge impact on organizational culture, on the glue that holds an organization together. So this simply means that people are watching you and your behaviors. What is tolerated and what is not.

In addition to keeping our self-awareness in check, and modeling behaviors we want to see in others, it’s also important to recognize the power of symbolism in organizational culture. Companies that share stories, or provide opportunities for play and fun tend to have positive cultures. People can identify with stories, tradition, and history. They think, “Gosh, look at all the great things we’ve done that will keep us around into the future.” It’s being able to see that a group of people have gone through this before and pulled out of hard times.

From an appreciative inquiry standpoint, when leaders of an organization focus on what works and what’s going well, chances are they will get more of it. When you constantly focus on what’s wrong or not working, morale drops and people find themselves in a slump. Evidence based research overwhelming shows that you reap results from where you focus your energy. Talking up successes and sharing stories of how you got there can produce an incredibly positive and motivated workforce. Furthermore, humor and play are excellent elixirs to ease tension and stress. A simple smile has tremendous physiological results; endorphins are released, and it just plain makes you feel better. The most successful leaders in an organization recognize the culture of which they are a part and can adapt as necessary, and that includes knowing when to offer praise to a team, share an uplifting story, or tell a silly joke.

It can be said that culture is one of the biggest influencers on the success of a team, an organization, or even a family. Every person is responsible for what this looks like. It’s accountability to yourself in the little things you do every day, and it’s the way a company’s leaders are perceived. It can seem like something out of your control, but it isn’t. You do have the power to make a difference, just as U.S. anthropologist Margaret Mead explained almost 75 years ago when she reported, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So think about the one little thing that you do every day that contributes to the culture around you…what one little thing can you do differently that will make your work environment a better place?

Just One

One song can spark a moment,
One flower can wake the dream
One tree can start a forest,
One bird can herald spring.

One smile begins a friendship,
One handclasp lifts a soul.
One star can guide a ship at sea,
One word can frame the goal.

One vote can change a nation,
One sunbeam lights a room
One candle wipes out darkness,
One laugh will conquer gloom.

One step must start each journey.
One word must start each prayer.
One hope will raise our spirits,
One touch can show you care.

One voice can speak with wisdom,
One heart can know what’s true,
One life can make a difference,
You see, it’s up to you!

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