By Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO
Do you know what makes a culture? There are reasons why you should consider it to develop a collaborative environment? Several factors make up cultures, such as habits, preferences, styles, unwritten codes of behavior, etc. One thing I learned while leading transformations was that it is the leader that sets the tone. When I hear the saying, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” I can relate. When strategies and culture do not align, change may have a short life span.
The leader sets the tone and that tone trickles down to everyone in the organization. People have different personalities. Each person will contribute his/her character to the composite of the organization’s culture. If it is a positive tone, people will be inspired to collaborate, care, and add value to each other. The people will make this part of their daily behavior.
On the other hand, if the tone is of distrust and negativity, It will also trickle down and may be perceived as a toxic culture. The culture of an organization impacts its customers, both internal and external. People tend to give what they receive; therefore, this is one reason why it is vital to treat employees the way we want them to treat customers.
Many organizations treat the symptom by providing customer service training. Although it is a valuable investment, in some cases, not knowing how to treat customers may not be the cause of substandard customer service. I worked for an agency that had the worst customer service record in the organization. As a new hire, my task was to turn the organization around and fix the customer service issue. After brief conversations and observations, I concluded that the customer service issue was merely a symptom of a more significant problem. The root cause was the leadership style and the negativity that permeated throughout the organization.
Resolving the customer service issue required a fresh start with a new leadership style, shielding staff from the negativity that flowed from higher levels in the organization, and training. The change in leadership gave everyone the incentive to recommit to their role and approach daily situations with the same consideration and care they were now receiving. Changing culture is not a quick process. It requires time for each individual to experience and adopt a new set of unwritten rules for behavior that comes from appreciation, choice, and communication.
1-Appreciation: One way to start changing a toxic culture is by helping people feel appreciated and supported for their work. Regardless of whether it is their responsibility to perform their respective roles, people need to feel that they contribute to something bigger than themselves and their contribution matters. In his hierarchy of needs model, Maslow identified the need to belong and be appreciated as every individual’s psychological needs. Naturally, individuals are happier about their environment if it meets their psychological needs.
Coming up the ranks, I encounter environments where the person in the leadership position offered a constant reminder that everyone’s job security is in the hands of management. The threat to stability puts at risk a person’s means for fulfilling his/her basic need for food and shelter. Fortunately, many organizations understand the relationship between treating people with respectful appreciation and customer service quality. When people are happy, the chances for better customer service increase; it starts with the leader.
2-Personal choice and commitment: Everyone must see something in the leader or environment that compels them to recommit to their job. Each person has a choice. It is the leader’s responsibility to gain the trust of the team. Each person’s commitment to the group will have a positive compounding effect and help change the culture. It is a one-event at a time process. It takes time to change the culture of a government organization. I benefited from being a new sign of hope for the team. I didn’t expect to see immediate changes, but I offer them hope for a better future and a new organization. No one will change on command; it is an individual process, and it happens only if the individual chooses to do so. Getting buy-in is vital to the transformation process.
There are a few examples of organizations that have a collaborative culture. One of them is Chick-A-Filet. Just visit their drive-through and experience a happy culture. I don’t usually eat fast food but became curious after hearing a speaker talk about the company’s leadership and their effort to create a collaborative culture.
3-Communication: Communication is essential in any change process, especially when you strive to have a culture where collaboration is at the center of all success. Communicating freely in all directions within the organization is necessary to develop an environment of cooperation, trust, and excellence. It is an excellent idea to provide communication training to make interactions more significant, given the diversity of personalities and backgrounds. When people understand how to communicate more effectively with others, they can develop better relationships. One way to help people identify how to communicate with others with different personalities is to offer them the opportunity to take an assessment, whether DISC, Whole Brain, or any other. The appraisal’s objective is not to pigeon-hole the person into their style, but to offer recommendations on how to best blend their style to more effectively communicate with people with a different personality profile.
To summarize, culture consists of many factors, including personality styles, leadership cues, and the overall environment created overtime. To change the culture, it takes time and intentional effort by the leader and every individual that makes up the organization. Showing appreciation for work performed goes a long way to creating a positive environment, which then translates into the service provided to its internal and external customers. Changing the culture also requires the individual commitment of those in the organization, including leadership. Finally, communication is an important factor throughout the change process and maintains the level of collaboration desired by the organization. The team should communicate in all directions to increase the effectiveness of the team and benefit the organization. Communication is the door to change and, therefore, should be consistent and frequent.