12 Steps to Improving Your Organizational Culture

12 Steps to Improving Your Organizational Culture

With the end of the year approaching, many organizations are taking time to reflect on the year 2021 and the state of their workplace culture. While reflection is positive, many leaders wonder what they can do to ensure their work environment is healthy and their culture is one where employees are proud to work and remain in. The fact that so many leaders have come to us embracing the concept of promoting a healthy workplace through civility and respect speaks to a true paradigm shift in the way employers view mental health, work/life balance, and other important aspects of a healthy workplace.

Although the past two years have been fraught with challenges, hopefully we can look back on the “pandemic era” as a time when employers fully began to understand the need to maintaining a culture that allows their team members to shine without the fears that have bogged down workforces for so many years. The following are twelve steps that can be taken (or reinforced) to improve organizational culture, and make your workplace one that employees are proud to be a part of and remain loyal to for many years to come.


1. Embrace a Speak Up and Listen Up Mentality

In a speak up environment employees are unafraid to raise concerns to leadership. In a listen up environment, leaders and managers are always willing to not only hear the concerns their employees raise with them, but also “listen” to the concerns and make the necessary changes to rectify wrongs, even when doing so is difficult or uncomfortable.

When employers embrace a speak up/listen up mentality, employees do not fear adverse consequences for raising concerns, nor do they feel their employer will be tone deaf. Instead, employees are more likely to work harder knowing they can bring a concern to leadership and something will be done to address it. Therefore, step one to improving organizational culture is to start encouraging employees to speak up so that you can listen up and understand where your weaknesses are, and in turn address them.


2. Cultivate Relationships based on Trust and Respect

Employees often complain that their co-workers and managers are constantly trying to undermine them for personal gain. Such distrust is a hallmark of an unhealthy workplace culture. When leaders show their employees through their behavior that they can be trusted, they in turn gain the respect of those working for them. Likewise, when employees feel respected, they tend to treat their colleagues with a greater level of trust and understanding and are more likely to help them out when needed. Given trust and respect are a two-way street, it is essential that your organization ensure that your workforce believes your leaders are being honest with them when they say they are there in good times and bad, and you must be willing to punish those leaders who are either disrespectful, or do something that reflects poorly on their trustworthiness. Accountability is key in developing trust and respect within the organization.


3. Remain Flexible in Policy and Circumstance

If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that a lot can be accomplished remotely. Now that we have had nearly two years of a majority of the American workforce working remotely, we can actively say that productivity has not dropped (and in some cases it has increased). Despite pandemic fatigue and fear, most employees report that they are happier now with their work-life balance, while most employers claim productivity has remained high. Therefore, in order to keep up with the new world working order, it is essential that your organization be flexible in its policies. This leads back to step 2 (trust). When you trust your employees to get their work done in a less traditional environment they are more likely to respect the organization for giving them the flexibility to do so.


4. Foster and Organizational Philosophy (and Stick to it)!

A common complaint among employees is a lack of knowledge as to the organizational philosophy “du jour.” When employees work in organizations where the targets are constantly in motion, the goals invariably seem much more unattainable. Therefore, in order to improve your workplace culture, your leaders must formulate an organizational philosophy and stick to it. This means you may have some difficult choices to make that might be initially unpopular, but over time you will gain a greater respect from the workforce if you are willing to stay the course through good times and bad.


5. Ensure Team Members Take Away Personal Enrichment from Education

When many employees think about training, they think about formulaic modules aimed at decreasing the liability on the organization in the event something goes wrong. This is an outdated approach. The best training now allows employees to learn something about themselves, and take away concepts they can use in their life away from the organization. Sometimes this may come in the form of education on relationship building and emotional intelligence that the learner can use at home. Other times it may be core skill building that is useful not just at their current place of employment, but throughout their career as a whole. By providing meaningful opportunities for education and training, employees can gain takeaways that lead to overall enrichment and can reflect upon what they have learned to improve the organization as a whole.


6. Return to the Idea of Mentorship

Once upon a time, workplace cultures were built on the idea of a well-experienced mentor guiding less experienced employees in the ways of the organization and passing along skills that can only be gained through experience. Somewhere along the line organizations began to expect new employees to “hit the ground running.” Unfortunately, doing so is easier said than done. Healthy organizational cultures nowadays are returning to the idea that mentors are important. In addition to the education they can provide, the concept of two-way respect (mentors can learn from new employees as well) benefits the organization. If you are not running a mentorship program at your workplace you should strongly consider implementing one and ensuring it is being fully utilized.


7. Promote (and Reward) Teamwork

Similar to the concept of shared ideas through mentorship, teamwork is essential to a healthy organizational culture. In those organizations where employees feel less a part of a linear organizational hierarchy and more a part of a team, they are more likely to work hard and try and contribute. Additionally, employees frequently cite teamwork as one of the most important aspects of a healthy workplace culture. If you feel your organization has become too stratified you should immediately re-evaluate to ensure adequate teamwork concepts are being utilized, and if you feel you do have a proper teamwork structure you should ask your workforce, as their view of the situation may differ! If there is disconnect ensure that you are willing to make the proper adjustments, and you will find that your employees develop a greater respect for leadership and the organization as a whole.


8. Ensure Employees Understand the Role of Culture in a Healthy Work Environment

Each of the aforementioned steps are critical to improving and maintaining a healthy workplace culture, but if employees do not understand the role culture plays, it is up to the organization to make them understand. Doing so is not just about the education suggested, but also in culture committee events and communications that make clear the organization’s commitment to ensuring the health of its workforce. You may be surprised how many employees do not consider culture when evaluating an organization, but once they begin to understand it they may see deficiencies they did not know existed.


9. Be Transparent

For many years organizations attempted to hide problems to “protect” their workforce. This approach not only bred distrust within the organization, but also led employees to be unwilling or afraid to speak up about their concerns. Modern healthy organizations are transparent about positive things going on within the organization and also when there is a problem. By being transparent about difficult situations your leadership skills can shine through, and your workforce will develop greater respect for the difficult conversations you are willing to have. You should not fear what happens after you reveal difficult news, rather consider the implications if your workforce finds out about it from another channel.


10. Make Valuable Employees Feel Rewarded

It is one thing to have high expectations, but when employees meet and/or exceed those expectations they should feel rewarded. This does not just mean pecuniary rewards such as raises and bonuses, but success should be promoted throughout the organization (and publicly if the success lends itself to external communication). By ensuring employees feel valued, the organizational culture as a whole improves, as those employees striving to achieve success will know once they do that their value will be recognized. This concept also leads back to respect within the organization, both for the employees who are having success and the organization for promoting and rewarding that success.


11. Encourage Passion and Compassion

Too often employers equate passion to “complaints.” This is often the wrong analysis, as passionate employees actually care about the organization and their work within it. Therefore, healthy organizational cultures not only encourage passion about the work and the environment, but are also compassionate about problems that may be going on in the lives of its workforce. When an employee appears to be having a bad day, it is up to organizational leadership to make that employee feel better in any way it can. Sometimes the employees are unwilling to share what is going on (given it may be personal), but the organization and leadership can ensure that employee that they are supported and the organization will do anything the individual needs. This compassion leads to a greater passion for the place someone works, and has a positive impact on organizational culture.


12. Have Zero Tolerance for Disrespect and Incivility

Finally, organizations must make clear to their workforce that they have zero tolerance for disrespectful or uncivil behavior at work. This goes far beyond rectifying illegal harassment or even bullying, but ensuring that people treat one another in a manner they would choose to be treated outside work. When the organization hears a complaint of incivility it should immediately investigate the issue and confront the accused. Following a discussion of the acts, the incident should be documented and the victim apprised of the process. Doing so not only informs the bad actor that their behavior will not be tolerated, but also gives the victim a sense of security that the organization will do everything it can (immediately) to cure the wrong. It goes without saying that this must not only be the policy, but also the practice.


Syntrio wishes your organization a happy, healthy and respectful 2022. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how our products can help you implement the strategies above, and would be happy to demonstrate the variety of ways we are working with businesses to continue moving forward in the very important area of workplace culture. Contact us today to discuss how we can formulate a strategy for your success in the new year.


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Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law, with a focus on litigation, individual plaintiff and class action discrimination, harassment, and other employment-specific cases as well as focusing his practice toward advising employers on preventive practice. Jonathan has presented over 100 live employment discrimination and harassment prevention training courses across all 50 states.

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