Organizational culture comprises a plethora of aspects from behaviours and attitudes to mindsets, belief systems, ideologies and of course habits, both company-wide and individual. This culture, which is so multi-faceted and complex in nature, is what gives an organization an identity, a backbone, and a code to act by. It is a huge determinant of workplace happiness, engagement, productivity, and consequently – success.
While organizational culture is often driven through employee-centric initiatives, activities and awareness campaigns, what is often overlooked is that the most important people in driving change are managers. It is the leaders who set an example, especially from a behavioural perspective. And even though culture is taught, it cannot be taught with just words on a poster or some activities a few times a year. Culture, just like any other abstract and intrinsically complex concept, is something that is internalised over time, often subconsciously, and with a strong sense of awareness, even consciously.
So, how can managers help drive culture?
Setting an example
Managers should not just be examples of professional acumen and official expertise. They are human and they have had prolific histories in the field and in life. So, aside from appropriating them as models of purely work-associated aspects, organizations should leverage the experience and mentorship skills that managers possess to drive culture within and across teams and departments. When a manager, for instance, deals with an employee’s work problems with empathy and understanding, a trickle- down effect causes the team to aspire to behaviours at par with the manager’s. A manager who takes a personal interest in customer opinions, rather than only writing or preaching about “customer centricity” will only wake team members up to the fact that values are culture are more about doing than saying.
Integrating with the team
Culture, as discussed earlier, is internalised, often subconsciously. Thus, the top-down approach does not mean that managers need to assume a position of authority where culture is being “taught” as if it is solely part of a training programme. Culture is, in fact, disseminated through behaviour. When openness, empathy, inclusivity and constructive criticism become an integral part of leaders’ behaviours towards and around their team members and colleagues, these attitudes effectively spread to others as well. This is especially so when managers integrate and interact with their team rather than preaching from the pulpit.
Absorbing to exude
The top-down approach is not just important for employees to internalise a healthy organizational culture. It is also a reciprocal arrangement, where well integrated managers who have already mentored their team to emulate values that lead to a concrete and harmonious work culture, can in turn absorb the positive attributes of team members that make a strong, productive organization. In this way, managers themselves learn newer and more progressive ways to foster a solid culture, and subsequently disseminate the same to other employees. Whether it is to learn more effective communication, or heightened openness to and understanding of people from different races and sexual orientations, there’s a lot that manager can gain from their team, which they can later pass on to others.
Focusing on only the employees and overlooking those who are the true mentors and pillars of the company can be counterproductive to driving organizational culture. On the other hand, this does not mean that the process cannot be reciprocal in nature. using a top-down approach to initiate cultural development in the organization can set in action a wonderful chain of learning, absorbing, positivity and productivity.