Five insights into workplace culture change

Organizational transformation should involve more action than reaction
Thursday, April 25, 2019
By Arnie Wohlgemut

The conversation between ‘John’ and his manager went like this:

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” he spits out. “Management is just picking on me!” He sat back and crossed his arms, confident he set the record straight.

“Do you play hockey?” the manager asked. A confused look crossed John’s face.

“Yeah” he replied, clearly not interested.

The manager took a leap: “What else? Soccer? Golf? Tennis?”

“Soccer” John muttered, confused by the direction of the conversation

The manager pressed on.

“Is it ok to play soccer using hockey rules?” He didn’t wait for a reply: “The same principle applies here. We play by the workplace rules – everyone, even you. It starts with respect. Think about it next time you feel tempted to say things that are not respectful.”

This little exchange provides insights into the process of culture change. First, we all must be on the same page. Without the support of senior management, it’s a waste of time.

Secondly, the manager must be all in. Consistent application of values and expectations is required. No part-time management.

Here are five basic insights into resisting complacency that will help you move forward towards workplace culture improvement:

1. It is human nature to rationalize bad behaviour away. The most dangerous language from a manager or leader is “Oh that’s just Sally!” Unfortunately, I hear this far too often. If the behaviour is not acceptable – address it!

2. The first response, when confronted, is defence. We would prefer to believe the actions as “just not that bad”. Ask yourself, how bad does it have to be for you to act?

3. The lack of feedback can play a big part in the process of having lasting change. We all know the importance of providing feedback in a timely manner. Ongoing feedback is much more effective than the grand slam of critique. Give negative feedback as needed. Refuse to let it reach a tipping point.

4. Low-performance standards can sometimes be addressed through policy, or at performance review time, but don’t forget to apply your standards consistently across your department.

5. High-performance standards with poor follow-up are just as troubling as low-performance standards. If there is even one sliver of alternative or “bad” behaviour by the manager or leader, that behaviour will eventually become the norm.

Understand the importance of resisting complacency. Next time, address the issues promptly. As a manager or leader of a team, you are required to do the hard work needed to see improvements and positive change.

Arnie Wohlgemut is the senior coach and president of KP Mylene | Building to Lead, a facilities management and leadership development consulting company.

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