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How to start building a better work culture

by | Blog

Treat your culture like an ecosystem

When you think about an ecosystem, what comes to mind? Typically, we think of biological systems or a physical environment in nature. In nature, no matter what type of ecosystem, there is a complex network of organisms and environments that are interconnected.

In a similar way, your organization, your culture, and the overall health of your workplace is like an ecosystem. You cannot poison the water supply in an environment and not expect there to be impacts made on the rest of the ecosystem. Just like at work, you cannot have a toxic or negative component of your culture or your organization, and not expect there to be ramifications elsewhere.

When we begin to work with a client on building a healthy and intentional culture, we ask that they start to shift the way they look at “culture” as something you do, or simply a strategic initiative for the year. Your culture is an integral part of your business, and a culture will emerge whether intended or not. If it’s not one you invest in, it will certainly be one that you pay for.

Value People over Positions

When you realize that your culture affects every area of your business and organization, you begin to understand the true impact and value that your people have on the culture within your teams.

Healthy organizations with good cultures acknowledge the value that every single employee has to their organization. Healthy cultures in the modern workplace place a higher priority on the value of the human being, rather than their position.

This acknowledgment of the true value and impact that every person can have on the organization is the first step to an organization that functions free of the complications and frankly, the drama of a hierarchical model.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t expectations, accountability, competition, rewards, and incentives for hard work, productivity, and innovation. What this does mean however is that each member of your organization is valued for the impact they have, and the potential impact they have on the organization.

You get better engagement, and you get better results when your people feel and can see that they are valued.

Define and Articulate

One of the biggest differentiators we see in determining the success or quality of a culture is the degree to which it is articulated and defined.

When we begin the process of helping our clients build exceptional cultures, we often start with extracting what they value the most, helping them define those things, and articulate which behaviors they as a team, group, or entire organization are going to pursue.

Clearly defining and articulating your culture at a specific level, allows for a couple of very important things to happen.

One of the first things is that you begin to develop clear expectations. Something we know to be true is that frustration lies in the gap between expectations and reality. In order to bridge this gap, setting clear, and mutually agreed upon expectations is a must.

Once clear expectations are established, consistency in how teams hold one another accountable begins to develop. A clearly defined culture and expectations allow for focusing on what’s important – in short, focus on behaviors, not the person. Consistency in accountability is important when coaching and leading people. It’s not that Tim is the problem; Tim’s punctuality is the problem. When we separate the behavior from the person, accountability is not an attack, and we are able to move towards our shared goals faster.

Celebrate and Elevate!

Once a culture is clearly defined and articulated, it should be celebrated and shared!

Internally, people need to know, that they are participating in and contributing to a culture; and they need to know what that culture is.

Celebrating your culture internally can look like many things, but one of the best ways is to take the behaviors and attributes that are defined as important and elevate them in your day-to-day business. We call it “good going on offense”, and it looks like catching and celebrating people doing the right thing, with the same specificity and intentionality that would normally be applied towards catching mistakes or managing negative behaviors.

Externally, culture should be something that you utilize to show clients, vendors, partners, and job seekers, who you are.

Externally, telling people who you are and what you believe is a great way to make sure you attract the talent, clients, and business opportunities that you want, not just the ones you need. You cannot hire, work with, or grow with the people you want if you are too busy just getting the ones you need.

Check out this video, that we produced for one of our clients who celebrates and elevates their culture.

Check-In Consistently

Something that’s consistent in organizations we work with that have the best cultures is that they keep their thumb on the pulse. Checking in often and consistently allows you to develop a thorough understanding of what is happening in your organization or on your team.

There are many tools that you can use, for example, we design and administer engagement and feedback surveys that our clients deploy throughout each year. Some organizations send out surveys annually, and others do it as often as quarterly. The right cadence depends on your business and will vary; what’s important is to gather the data and respond to it.

However, if you aren’t able to implement an organization-wide survey, you can start with your team or area. And it doesn’t have to be a complicated thing, you can start by asking more intentional questions in your 1:1’s or carving out time as a team to discuss and extract information about how things are going.

Whatever your method for checking in is, it’s important to always keep in mind that the goal is listening. You are listening to what’s happening and then taking the feedback and digesting it. You can diagnose after your check-in is complete, but you should first focus on listening to what’s going on.

Make a roadmap and start tracking your progress

After data has been gathered, it’s time to make a plan.

When you listen to what’s going on in your organization or team, you begin to understand what’s important and from there you can begin to prioritize the next steps.

We utilize a process we call “Wants, Work, Wins.” This process helps our clients define their priorities, establish action steps and milestones for celebrating their achievements. Wants, Work, Wins can be established across a large scope like a department, or as narrow as an individual person.

Wants are the things you desire, specifically the outcome you are looking for. An example would be “I want to conduct better 1:1’s with my team.”

Work is the steps that it will take to get there. Some examples might be, “I am going to spend time each week one member of my team getting to know their personal and professional goals for the year”, or “I am going to practice my communication skills once a week leading up to my 1:1”, or “I am going to find and complete a course in better coaching skills.” Your work should be something tangible, specific, and action-oriented.

Wins are the things that will let you know you’re making progress and are to be celebrated. Some wins based on the examples above could be, “Improve engagement scores on annual survey”, or “Help team achieve 75% of their personal development goals for the year.”

The goal with this process is to make small, but consistent progress towards building and maintaining the culture you want. Progress is the goal; as we say at Think 3D, better is best. You aren’t aiming for perfect, because to be honest, a perfect culture doesn’t exist. You are aiming for better, every day. Because a better culture is better for everyone.

Written by Daniel Card

Dan Card is in charge of innovation, technology, and product development at Think 3D Solutions. He is passionate about helping people and companies perform at their best. Dan writes about organizational culture, personal development, and current workplace trends.

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