A friend of mine took up running during her lunch break. What’s strange about that you may ask? Getting some exercise is good for you as a general thing, and during the lunch break, could be a good way to give yourself more energy and vitality during the afternoon. Well, she’s not really the running type, and the reason she took it up? She hates her colleagues so much, she’d prefer running to get away from the office so she could spend less time with them.
My favourite definition of culture is that it is the by product of consistent behaviour. So what is going on in that workplace, consistently, to make someone prefer to take up an exercise they wouldn’t ordinarily be motivated to do? And what is my friend’s behaviour, going out alone at lunchtime instead of socialising with colleagues, what is her behaviour saying to her peers and bosses? It’s likely she would have developed a better understanding of her colleagues, and they of her, if she’d invited them along; shared activities are one way to develop good workplace relationships.
I’ve worked in offices where staff were managed through control and fear. I remember one manager who told me, with some pride in her voice, that everyone who she had assessed as underperforming at their annual appraisal had gone on to leave the organisation. It apparently didn’t occur to her to wonder why people who had previously been good at their jobs were now underperforming. Or consider whether she had some responsibility for that.
I worked for a manager who kept all the information to himself, only sharing what he thought was necessary, and expected tasks to be completed how he wanted them done. Unsurprisingly, staff waited for approval before doing anything, and rarely showed initiative.
Sports Direct have come in for a lot of flak over their employment practices, but I’d like to pick out just one. Staff at their warehouse in Derbyshire are reported to be expected to submit to searches before and after leaving work to make sure they aren’t stealing the stock. Trust comes up regularly as a key to good leadership, but why would an employee trust a leader who clearly doesn’t trust them? And if you’re judged untrustworthy, what are the chances you’ll try to live up to that expectation? Oh, and you’re not paid for the time you spent waiting to be searched. How likely is that employee to put themselves out for an employer who treats them with such disregard?
There is some good news though, it is possible to make changes for the better. A care home in Essex was one of the subjects of the scandal exposed by a Panorama programme, a couple of years ago, where elderly residents were routinely treated with abuse. Some staff were dismissed and prosecuted, but the new owners faced a major task to stamp out such behaviour. By adopting behaviours that model what good care is: the acronym KCR, meaning kindness, comfort and respect, was introduced in July 2014, the culture at the home has been transformed. “We said if we’re going to get everybody working in the same way and we’re going to really drive through … how we do things around here, unite everybody, we need to call it something,” “And it’s not just about how we treat the residents, it’s about how we treat each other as well.”
But change is tricky. How do we change our consistent behaviour? Habits are hard to change. Research shows that it takes about two months to embed a new behaviour, and it’s best to only change one thing at a time. So what’s our motivation for making the effort?
There’s a growing awareness of the importance of workplace culture. There’s tons of research that shows people are more productive when they’re happy. When they’re not stressed. When they eat healthy food and get some exercise. When they see the bigger purpose of their work. When they have some mastery and autonomy over what they do. Not only are they more productive, but they are off sick less often, they are more likely to stay in their job.
So sure, change is tricky, but if you want your business to thrive, or even to survive, you will need to embrace it.
I’ll leave you with one final question – how is your behaviour impacting on your workplace, and is that creating the kind of culture you want?
Leave me a comment below, what changes do you think you could make?
 Fried, Jason and Hansson, David Heinemeier. 2010. Rework. Random House Group Limited, Chatham
 Friedman, Ron PhD, 2014. The Best Place to Work. The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Perigree, Penguin Group, New York