Trying to forge a workplace culture for your business can easily go wrong. A culture imposed from the top down can create resistance and disengagement as people feel that it has nothing to do with them.
This is in part because such an approach misses the point of any culture. A culture comes from its parts – the skills, values and interests of the people within it coming together to create something far greater. So if you want to create a strong, vibrant workplace culture that employees will engage with, your first step should be looking for what those employees bring.
Many employees will bring positive values and attitudes from their previous jobs, and these can be incredibly useful if allowed to shape your workplace culture. For example, ex-military personnel often bring a goal-focused approach to their work, something reflected in news articles, interviews and books on the subject. The disciplined approach to business improvement that became Six Sigma was born in large part from wartime supply and manufacturing concerns.
Look at what positive attitudes and approaches your employees have brought from previous work, however different it is from your own, and help them to spread these approaches. This can create disciplined and motivated workers without a top down approach.
People are often far more passionate about the lives they lead outside the office than they are about their work. This needn’t be a bad thing when shaping your company culture, but can instead become the foundation stone of unusual and distinctive aspects of your business.
Take the example of simple living enthusiasts, who share their ideas through blogs such as Mr. Money Mustache. A growing international movement, these are people who are looking for ways to consume less and live more simply. It’s not just about saving money and saving the environment, though these are both factors. It’s also about making their minds and the space around them less cluttered to make living less stressful. If you have people with an interest like that then tapping into their enthusiasm can create a more efficient and clutter free workplace, as well as streamlined approaches to work.
There are more fundamental things some people bring from home, like the caring, people-focused attitude of many young mothers. However they live, there will be positive things that your employees can contribute to your workplace culture if given the chance.
The last two hundred years have seen a sharp line drawn between work and leisure, but that line is once again beginning to blur, and this is a good thing for companies. It can be a particularly good thing for their cultures.
Artists and gamers show a great example of how this can work. Creative solutions such as using games in education often come from the playful and innovative ways of thinking that they take to their hobbies. Yet once they get to work they often shut that down, reinforcing a traditional attitude of bored conformity. If you can instead give them the space to be playful, and to encourage playfulness in others, then a creative workplace culture will emerge.
Whether it’s the teamwork that comes from sports or the analytical insight that comes from an obsession with crosswords and puzzles, employees bring a great deal of value from the things that they love.
Culture as Collective
Culture isn’t something that leaders can or should dictate, but it is something they can nurture. So look for the elements that you want in your workplace culture, and for the employees who already bring those attitudes from elsewhere. Give them the chance to shape the culture, and you’ll have something of real and enduring value.
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