What is the most valuable aspect of your organization? Often people respond with their building, technology, the service they provide, or the proprietary secrets that set them apart. Some may even say the people. All these things are good – and in many respects are keys to success – but they are not the most valuable aspects of the organization. The most valuable aspect of your organization is culture.
The culture of an organization is the foundation of how its leadership sees people. It is the basis from which decisions are made, and it is the key component to maintaining a successful organization. “Culture” has become one of the latest buzzwords in the lexicon of organizational development, but organizational leaders may not fully grasp the idea of culture.
The strength of an organizational culture does not reside in a ping pong table in the breakroom, the monthly potluck, quarterly staff meeting, or the office layout. According to Daniel Coyle, author “The Culture Code,” the key to building a strong culture is to create a feeling of safety and belonging.
Coyle identifies three qualities of belonging that strengthen the culture of an organization. The first quality is when energy is invested in the exchange. This is the idea that communication flows between the leadership and the frontline staff in a manner that people feel informed and, more importantly, the frontline people have a sense that they are being heard. This is key, because if an individual feels that his or her input is valued, it will be much easier to obtain buy-in for the organizational agenda. Leadership at any level that inhibits or attempts to control the exchange of information creates silos and barriers that inhibit the creation of a sense of belonging, because this lack of exchange creates rumors and innuendo that breeds mistrust.
The second quality for creating belonging outlined by Coyle is the need to value employees. The fastest way I know to identify an organization that does not value employees is when I hear the phrase “everyone is replaceable.” I recognize that this is a true statement, but it is not an accurate one, because while everyone can be replaced, their experience and perspectives cannot be replaced. Believing that employees are replaceable can inhibit the sense of belonging employees feel; nothing is worse than negating an employee.
Employees can be negated in two ways. The first is not giving credit where credit is due. As leaders, we need to recognize all people and the work that everyone does to keep the organization above water. The second way to negate an employee’s value is to devalue his or her experience. From the moment we are born the various interactions we have shaped how we perceive the world around us. When a leader chooses to decide unilaterally without having a conversation with those who will be most affected, that leader is negating the experience of a potential subject-matter expert. As employees, we know that we don’t always get to make the final decisions, but we do want someone to demonstrate to us that our perspective is valued.
The final quality outlined by Coyle is signaling that there is a future in the relationship being fostered by the organization and the employee. Developing culture takes a long-term plan and recognizing that culture is not going to change overnight. Which is why the first two qualities lead to the final. If as an employee I know that I am valued, and I am going to be able to be an active member of this organizational community, I am going to be able to build a relationship not just with the people I work with but also with the organization. For the individual, this creates a sense of belonging which in turn fosters a culture.
I have met people who think the idea of feeling valued and having input as well as relationship is just a result of a “snowflake” mentality. If that’s your attitude, let me ask you a question: Did you wake up this morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and say, “I hope nobody at works treats me with dignity and respect. I hope people ignore me, and I hope that I am not valued.” In the dozens of trainings that I have led addressing an issue like this, no one has ever answered yes to these questions. We all want people to acknowledge the value we bring to the organization.
Culture is about creating an environment where people feel safe and valued. Where communication is open, and the only thing being negated is rumors and innuendos. Being a part of a healthy culture is about knowing that I can be vulnerable, admit a mistake, share ideas, and challenge others as well as be challenged in a healthy manner.
Culture is not about being told what an organization is like but experiencing what it is like to be a part of an organization.
About the author
Robert Jones is an Employee Assistance Program Trainer with The Village Business Institute. Robert has a bachelor’s degree in History and a master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling and leadership. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and recently began working on his Educational Doctorate in Leadership. Robert has nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality field and has been doing freelance training for almost 10 years.