Organizational culture can be a powerful recruiting and retention tool, but left to languish, or worse, allowing toxic values to become integrated into a culture can have disastrous consequences. A good corporate culture will promote a feeling of satisfaction within your employees which will result in higher engagement and reduced turnover. It will also make it easier for you to attract and recruit new employees. In turn, this will lead to higher organizational performance and attendant increased revenue and profit.
The Best Places to Work awards are good benchmarks relating to corporate culture. Let's look at Tenmast Software, winner of an award for the fourth time this year. Tenmast promotes a culture where teams are accountable for goals— ensuring tasks are completed across team boundaries and without management intervention.
According to Tenmast President Mark Lewis, “Our culture initiatives have continually improved our team productivity in terms of speed at which tasks are completed as well as in reducing management interventions. Doing so allows management to spend more time focusing on big picture issues and raising the overall performance level of our teams.”
Conversely, a toxic culture, whether conscious or unconscious, can devastate an organization. Take the repugnant example of Penn State a few short years ago. The culture at this university held tightly to an unspoken value that placed the athletics programs on an untouchable pedestal.
This undeclared value allowed Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky to continue molesting students for years. As the Freeh special investigation report states, “One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior, as illustrated throughout this report, and which directly contributed to the failure of Penn State’s most powerful leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator.”
The most poignant example of the role the Penn State culture played in the continued cover-up of Sandusky’s activities is that of two janitors who had witnessed Sandusky engaged in an act with a victim. They both felt that they would be fired if they reported this activity given the untouchable status of the Penn State football program.
Elements of Corporate Culture
The research field of culture is awash in a sea of assessments. Surprisingly, the assessments look at many different facets, indicating the many angles, or ways in which to take a peek into a culture. I believe the following areas are important to investigate:
• Group behaviors and relationships
• Quality of work life
Aspects within these groups are easy to understand, evaluate, and develop action plans around should an organization embark on an effort to change the existing culture.
Building Bonds with Co-Cultures
Within all cultures co-existing cultures, or co-cultures, exist allowing individuals to build bonds that transcend the overall organizational culture. Let's take the example of a development team inside an ethnically diverse organization. Perhaps the team members are unable to build strong bonds across these ethnic differences; however, we find that several team members are both gamers and software developers. These individuals are able to find common ground and build strong relationships as they relate through discussions of current and challenging games and software best practices.
As the diagram shows, while the individuals don't have an ethnic cultural bond, they do have bonds across the gaming and software development domains. All organizations will find these co-cultures exist and can build on them to create more social and task cohesion within their teams. Companies who promote groups such as LGBT, ethnicity, sports, etc. will likely reap benefits in terms of higher team performance and productivity.
I'd like to leave you with one more story about building bridges through the different types of culture. In September 2012 Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic artist gave a TED talk relating his experience reaching out to Iranian citizens. One evening he created a poster and uploaded it onto his Facebook page. The poster showed him holding his child with the caption, “IRANIANS we will never bomb your country. We Love You.” Much to his surprise, when he awoke during the night he noticed that the poster had gone viral and he was already receiving enthusiastic comments from Israelis as well as Iranians. The idea spread and Iranian and Israeli citizens exchanged many more posters and expressions of compassion.
So, despite the ethnic and governmentally promoted chasm between the countries, the culture of compassion built a bridge between the two groups. As you work with individuals within your organization you can take a similar approach and seek common bonds between people to build rapport, trust, and engagement.
Joel DiGirolamo is the President of Turbocharged Leadership and works with organizations to enhance their leadership and team effectiveness. He has over thirty years of staff and management experience and has a BSEE degree, an MBA and a Master’s degree in psychology. http://www.ted.com/talks/israel_and_iran_a_love_story.html