No-one wants to work in an organization where the culture is vicious and authoritarian. Most people enjoy organizational culture where everyone is treated with respect, there are considerable degrees of freedom, and integrity seems to run through everything and everyone.
Culture is often seen as a differentiator when it comes to building relationships between client and vendor. It is also something that is touted when an organization is recruiting or promoting its brand on other ways. It lies at the heart of employee’s psychological contract with their employer.
Some organizations seem to have a more aggressive and ruthless culture, where mediocrity is met with dismissal instead of development, and leadership hierarchies seem to frame the communication and operational norms. The converse is also true where some organizations have soft, generous and easy-going cultures. These are of course generalizations, and there are many variations of culture types. There is nothing wrong with clear communication protocols or video games for employees in a lounge area, but these are expressions of the cultural lifeblood that needs a much deeper definition.
Can an organization develop a culture that is too soft? Let’s paint a contextual picture. Maybe attrition has been retrospectively high and an organization responds by raising salaries, relaxing benefit boundaries, and embarking on a cultural charm offensive to show how much positive change is happening. Of course, these initiatives may be absolutely necessary. It may be however, that an organization is so focused on creating a ‘great place to work’ that it loses sight of the ‘tough love’ that employees need to add value to the organization. Raising the bar of organizational culture is not all about making life easier for employees. It’s not about delivering the many enhanced and flexible working conditions to make employees feel better so that they actually relax and enjoy themselves too much at the expense of delivering extraordinary performance. It’s about creating a climate where discretionary effort is willingly given, employees strive to do their best, and the rewards of employment are truly motivational.
Culture should support outstanding performance – it can also blur the lines between outstanding and average.
Culture should differentiate great leaders – it can also hide mediocrity and promote stereotypes.
Culture should build pride – it can also create lethargy and allow people to settle into comfortable routines.
Culture should develop organizational traction – it can also undermine a cutting edge and result in organizational drag.
Let me give an example. I worked for an organization where flex-time was allowed. This meant that employees could bank extra hours worked over and above their standard 7 hours and 30-minute day, and take extra time off up to a maximum of 1½ days per month for hours banked in credit. While this was meant to be a motivational benefit as part of a positive culture, it actually worked in the reverse direction. Many employees watched the clock to bank enough hours to always take the maximum extra time off each month. This did not deliver enhanced performance and it meant that employees were not available to customers for an extra 1½ days per month, thus creating a soft culture.
Organizational culture needs to focus on the good of the organization as well as the employees. It needs to ensure that competitive edge is gained, not just that the organization features in the ‘great places to work’ surveys.