It’s Time for Leaders to Get Real about Culture

Written by Sam Jones
Samuel Jones, PhD, CSP, serves as Director of Organizational Health and Executive Coaching at Blue Hen, and is an author, speaker and trainer with organizations across the U.S.
October 20, 2021

Every organization’s culture is unique. Including an area that is often forgotten: the way employees engage and communicate with each other. Poor organizational culture can be seen, heard, and felt. But, so can great organizational culture.

The difference between the two is that healthy organizations encourage growth, personal responsibility, and ownership. Their cultures create an environment of trust and open communication that empowers and values people.

In sharp contrast, unhealthy organizational culture has leadership that accepts negative norms, biases and prejudices among its employees. These cultures promote an attitude of privilege expressed in auto-piloted responses that devalue people.

In order to better understand, address and improve organizational culture,  I think you must start with the words of those in the organization. Of first priority, their ability to speak the truth about what is occurring within the organization.

So how can your words, and eventually your behaviors, bring about positive change in your position, as it relates to your company’s culture?

First, evaluate yourself. How responsible are you in speaking up for those who feel like they don’t have a voice within the organization? Do you communicate your expectations with your colleagues? And more importantly, do you model your expectations for others?

Second, examine the behaviors of your leadership team. Do they lead by example? Do they lead with their head, heart, and hand? Do they inspire people to solve problems? Do they ask questions and listen? Do they motivate or demotivate their teams?

Lastly, ask your employees about their experience. Do this with the intent to listen and learn, rather than framing questions to hear what you want to hear. And ensure that employees can provide honest feedback without the threat of retaliation.

Some great questions to consider:
  • Do employees feel valued?
  • Do they feel their voices are heard?
  • How do senior leaders interact with middle management and frontline employees?
  • Do employees trust management? If not, why?
  • Would you refer a friend to work at your place of employment? If not, why?
  • Do you see yourself working at this company in the next 9-12months? If not, why?
  • Given the opportunity, would you reapply for your current job? If not, why?

Compare those responses with the perceptions of your leadership team. Do the two line up?

Every organization should evaluate their employees’ ability to be self-aware, their communication skills, and their ability to collaborate which helps create great organizational culture. If your organization has behaviors that devalue people and those behaviors are never challenged, then nothing will change, including culture.

So what behaviors do you want to implement that will make your organizational culture unique? Start with the questions above and reassess if the current behaviors, starting with how you communicate, are meeting that standard. And if you don’t like the answers that you get, then it’s time to get real about the health of your culture.

The Blue Hen team has decades of experience helping organizations succeed. Reach out to us today to learn how we can help you win. Behind every champion there’s a Blue Hen.

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