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Posted: March 12, 2013

Workplace culture: Like water to a fish

Get in the swim of things

Derek Murphy

Most people have a hard time defining their work culture. An Internet search of the subject produces all kinds of answers from technical explanations of a workplace culture using words such as “values, beliefs and principles,” to more broad ones: "Workplace culture is the culture of your workplace.”

Well, then.

I also noticed some people get too centered on the culture of places like Google, believing those models can apply to all businesses, which just isn’t the case. Sorry, but a financial company is probably not well-suited to having a bowling alley or offering eyebrow-shaping at the office. A workplace culture shouldn’t just be about somewhat irrelevant perks.

Let’s start with this definition: a company’s workplace culture is about inclusion of all levels, from top management to entry-level employees, where they feel they have an equal part in the business. It should be about tying employee enthusiasm with a solid work ethic.

Whether you’re the manager or the CEO of your company, you should be fully aware that there is a connection between a strong workplace culture and business results. In fact, a 2012 study from Deloitte found that exceptional organizations think about their business as a two-sided ledger: strategy and culture.

Deloitte’s “Core Values and Beliefs” survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive. Harris surveyed 1,005 U.S. adults (aged 18+, employed full-time in a company with 100+ employees) and 303 corporate executives on a number of questions related to culture in the workplace.

Some key findings include:

• 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.

• 83 percent of executives and 84 percent of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success. 

• There is a correlation between employees who say they are “happy at work” and feel “valued by their company” and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture.

However, the study revealed there is a disconnect between organizations simply talking about their culture and those that are embedding their beliefs into their operations.

• Executives have an inflated sense of their workplace culture when compared to employees based on significant differentials in their responses to questions about how culture is expressed in their organization.

• Only 19 percent of executives and 15 percent of employees believe strongly that their culture is widely upheld within their own organizations.

Obviously, workplace culture is something management needs to work a little harder on.

Establishing your workplace culture

While the majority of respondents indicated that culture is important to business success, the study said executives tend to prioritize a clearly defined business strategy (76 percent) above clearly defined and communicated core values and beliefs (62 percent), whereas employees value them equally (57 percent and 55 percent, respectively). 

Punit Renjen, chairman of the board for Deloitte who commissioned the survey, said in a news release this suggests business leaders should be looking at their organizations through a wider lens and considering both sides of the ledger: core values and beliefs as well as strategy as essential to long-term sustainability.

So here’s an interesting section of this survey: in considering the elements of workplace culture, executives rank competitive compensation and financial performance among the top factors influencing culture on the job. You would think employees would say the same thing, but in fact the workers say the intangibles - regular and candid communication and access to management - outweigh the tangibles - compensation and financial performance.

This is encouraging because most companies have tightened up their budgets, where they are restricted in handing out raises or bonuses, but intangibles is something every manager can actually do for their employees. An important way to further establish your workplace culture is understand motivation. As a manager, you have the ability to influence your team member’s motivations. When motivation is strong, performance is usually also high.

Remember these facts that apply to workers on all levels:

People want to do a good job. People feel good when they do well and feel bad or discouraged when they do not.

People want control at work. Managers maximize motivation when they maximize the amount of control people have.

People do not want to be held accountable for things that they believe are beyond their control.

People want their efforts to be respected and appreciated.

Now that you know motivation plays a key role in culture, make sure you empower others to contribute at higher levels through providing special assignments and encourage cooperation, rather than competition, between different work units.

Derek Murphy is CEO of TBC, a global assessment company with over 4 decades of experience, specializing in 360s and survey customization. Our hosting platform, TruScore®, allows you to manage all of your talent management assessments in one central location. Request a demo to discover why some of the most recognized brands in the Fortune 1000 chose TBC.

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