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In my almost 30 years as a learning professional, I’ve worked in small instructional design houses, public schools, large corporations, and small industry to name a few. I’ve seen this variety of environments exhibit a similar variety of company cultures; some where employees thrive, others where they hope to survive.
A Definition of Culture
I’ll refer to “culture” as the:
I’ve seen culturally-mindful management teams. They come by to check in or hold meetings for sharing status, plans, and ideas. They look for ways to support team efforts and step in to lend a hand when needed. They understand the company’s direction and demonstrate how each team member is part of the plan. They encourage success and provide opportunities to learn and grow. They allow each employee to contribute their strengths and expertise to the team effort. They are approachable, positive, and hold themselves accountable for their responsibilities and commitments. By demonstrating these managerial and interpersonal skills, they set a tone that makes people want to work there and do their best for the company.
I’ve also seen management teams who do not recognize when their culture is demoralizing or toxic. When business is bad or they have headaches with staff, many managers will look elsewhere for the cause. They give pep talks, enact higher thresholds for performance, or simply rant about how employees better shape up. These methods typically drive the behavior farther from the goal. People tend to respond by deflecting fault back to the manager. A negative mentality within the employees will override attempts of management to quell unrest if the approach is not one the rank-and-file buys into. By demonstrating these managerial and interpersonal skills, they set a tone that makes people want to run and hide.
“A Bad Environment Will Overcome Good Workers Every Time.”
That statement is a paraphrase of a philosophy I learned on a previous job. It implies that even the best employee’s intentions will get swallowed up by a poorly run business or project. Without a solid vision and methods for supporting employees, the chances for business success are diminished.
How to Improve Culture
It is doubtful that a learning consultant coming in to a company proclaiming, “hey you have a toxic culture” is going to win many supporters. However, there are more subtle ways to convert negative culture to positive that involve both managers and employees.
The first step is to objectively observe culture in operation. Questions that lead to analysis of culture include:
The second step is to encourage small changes, including:
Please share your observations, suggestions, and thoughts.
Team Learning Services has experts in identifying the state of culture in your small business. If you’d like to discuss the topic of Company Culture with our team directly, contact us and we will be in touch shortly.
David Koster is the owner and principle consultant of Team Learning Services. He has 30 years experience in the education and learning industry.