April 20, 2012
How an Organization’s Culture Affects Group Productivity
BY Mary Mahoney
Anyone who has ever worked in a toxic environment understands the impact of organizational culture on productivity. Yet negatively charged cultures seem pervasive these days.
There are countless news stories epitomizing employees motivated by personal gain and greed in an effort to increase power, money or status at the expense of others. The Occupy Wall Street protests speak directly to the backlash against social and economic inequality, greed, corruption.
Organizational culture is one of the most fundamental building blocks of a successful workplace. But what do we really mean by organizational culture, and why is it more important than ever? Business Dictionary defines organizational culture as the shared “values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.” In six words, it’s “How we do things around here.”
Most companies maintain an official culture represented in their vision and mission statements, core values and policies and procedures. Beneath the surface, however, there are norms, unwritten rules and shared assumptions that define culture. All too often, what’s above the surface isn’t always consistent with what’s below.
I know of a company that at first glance seems to offer many great benefits and positive working conditions. In practice, however, rudeness triumphs, and competition and personal agendas abound. Worse, the bad behavior is tolerated by upper management. The company and its employees consequently are distracted and take their eyes off achievement of business goals.
My conclusion is that the company may not even realize it has a bad culture. It’s a highly corrosive environment and fails to provide the universal need of employees everywhere: positive motivation, which in turn yields maximum productivity.
Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” A majority of issues related to employee productivity stem from enthusiasm or lack thereof. Many employees go to work despite monotony in their job or disdain of their manager or employer. Their perception of “work” equals drudgery. There is no passion or pride.
An attractive corporate culture can make employees feel good about going to work, and it can help companies both attract and retain talent. It’s not enough simply to provide a salary and benefits; employees want to enjoy their work and success.
When Sam Walton founded Walmart in 1962, he introduced a belief system that remains in place today. This includes a culture of teamwork, respect for individuals, commitment to excellence and “servant leadership” – the notion of leaders serving others rather than others serving leaders.
Walton’s translation of the proverb “never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today” also resulted in the company’s Sundown Rule, a corporate directive whereby all Walmart employees strive to answer as many customer requests as possible by the close of business day in the spirit of the company’s dedication to same-day customer service.
In another proactive hospitality policy, the company’s Ten Foot Rule states that store employees must greet, smile and assist any customer who comes within 10 feet of them. Walmart also engages its staff in morning “cheers” where they recite company sayings. A final, yet important rule that’s a strong part of the corporate culture is Sam Waltons’ pricing philosophy which underlines the company’s strategy of selling items for less than its competitors.
In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos, said culture is a fundamental premise at Zappos: “If we get the culture right, then great service and building a long-term, enduring brand or business will just be a natural byproduct.”
Hsieh believes all employees must live and breathe the Zappos “powered by service” culture as part of their job descriptions. The company fosters a family culture through employee holiday parties, team outings and even happy hours in an effort to build a positive team and family spirit. Zappos’ core values range from delivering “wow” service — doing something unconventional and innovative that’s above and beyond what’s expected — to driving change, being humble and creating fun and humor in the workplace.
Developing a positive organizational culture falls squarely on the shoulders of a company’s executive leaders. Leaders are tasked with developing the vision and goals of an organization, sharing them with employees and enforcing them through action and exemplary behavior. Leadership sets the tone that helps determines employee morale and, ultimately, productivity.
A leader’s success will depend, to a great extent, upon understanding organizational culture. It often is said that employees don’t leave companies, they leave poor managers.
Managers who employ an open-door policy, remain accessible to their staffs and encourage frequent and honest dialogue can gain their employees’ respect and loyalty. If employees feel that they have been treated unfairly or go unrecognized, productivity will suffer, according to a survey by the National Business Research Institute.
Similarly, a leader who encourages continuous learning and embraces change helps define an organizational culture that is flexible and modern. Rather than being afraid of making suggestions, employees in this kind of environment can feel free express their innovative ideas and opinions.
Culture matters. Many of us spend 40, 50 or more hours at work each week. That means we often spend more time with colleagues than with families and friends. We need our work to be engaging, enjoyable and meaningful. Not only does organizational culture affect the way employees interact with each other and with clients, it can help drive business results.