Create the right cultural expectations to get the most out of your team

Workplace culture has more influence over behaviour than many think, writes Ross Judd

Create the right cultural expectations to get the most out of your team

Organisational culture has been cited as a contributing factor in recent scandals like VW’s “Dieselgate”, the Royal Commission into Banking, and even the “ball tampering” scandal in Australian Cricket. It’s a strong statement about the influence of culture, and the responsibility of leaders to create the right culture.

How many times have you given staff a clear instruction only to find it was ignored or changed in some way? Why does this happen? Because culture has more influence over behaviour than you, your leadership team, systems, training programs, or anything else.

So what is this thing called “culture”? Too often it’s defined as either “the way we do things around here” or “shared values”. But those definitions don’t explain the actual phenomena that occurs, they define the outcome.

Culture is “the attitudes and behaviours people unconsciously adopt to fit in with the expectations of the people around them”.

If someone walked into your company and heard everyone complaining about management how long would it take for them to start complaining about management? Not long. They would quickly adopt the attitudes and behaviours of the people around them. The ability to role model others and adapt behaviour to fit in has been developed from childhood and is so deeply ingrained it is a natural and instinctive behaviour. It happens without conscious thought and most people aren’t aware it’s happening.

To get the best out of your organisation and achieve great outcomes you need to create a culture where people expect and demand the right behaviour from each other. You need to create the right cultural expectation.

The easiest place to start is by making culture the attitudes and behaviours people consciously adopt. Get people talking about culture. Ask questions like “what culture do we need to be successful?” This will get good results.

To get great results start by engaging people in a discussion about Purpose. Talk about why the company exists and what you want to achieve – not in terms of your targets or KPIs but in terms the company’s contribution to making the world a better place. People need to feel like their work has meaning so try to create a compelling statement that will motivate at a deeper level.

This conversation is pivotal to building the right set of expectations. The more people align with the purpose of the company the more they will expect from each other to deliver that purpose.

It’s also important that every leader in the organisation engages with their team, department, unit, or site, to discuss why they exist in the context of delivering the company purpose. They might come up with a slightly different statement of purpose and that’s OK. Alignment is more important that uniformity.

The next step is to define the culture you need to deliver that purpose.

This is a great way to build cultural expectations because it comes from the perspective of “what culture do we need to deliver our purpose” instead of “the culture needs to change.” Too many companies impose culture change and define the target culture with complex definitions and surveys. This is different. People are engaged in a conversation about the culture needed to achieve the purpose. As a result they will start expecting different attitudes and behaviours from each other.

A great tip is to define the target culture in one word, or two at the most. This will get people talking. Don’t make the mistake of overcomplicating it. People can only remember two or three things at a time so make this memorable and engaging by keeping it simple. Your objective is to generate a conversation, not a definition.

Once you have a target culture for the organisation every leader will need to create one for their team. Don’t worry if they come up with a slightly different word, alignment is more important than the whole company having one word.

The objective is to engage people in a series of conversations designed to align everyone with a common purpose and the culture needed to achieve that purpose. The more people contribute to the process the more they will create a set of expectations that will influence the people around them. As a result the company will have a culture aligned in its expectations and people will adapt their behaviour accordingly.

Culture is a powerful part of any organisation. It’s something everyone should discuss, particularly in the context of the culture needed to deliver the purpose. So start aligning people with the purpose of the company and defining the culture needed to deliver it. You will then see an organisation creating great cultural expectations.

Ross Judd is a cultural engagement expert and founder of Team Focus International. Ross works with leaders to engage their workforce in the creation of a fantastic culture that will deliver strong business outcomes.