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Did you know that employees value culture and career growth at almost 2x the rate they value compensation and benefits?  Organizational culture used to be something that was created as a by-product of processes and systems in a company. It just happened and leaders didn’t pay much attention to it. Well, that’s no longer the case. Culture is now one of the top priorities for Senior Leaders, regarded as a corporate asset to be actively shaped with intent and purpose. It is a competitive differentiator that employees, customers and stakeholders now look for.
Culture is described by many as “the way things are done around here”. What drives “how things are done” is a system of values and behaviours.  Not values and behaviours that are written in fancy documents and on websites, that’s the easy part. It’s the values and behaviours that are rewarded by the systems and processes in your organization.
 In your company, is there alignment between the advertised values and behaviours and those that are rewarded? 
Wells Fargo is a classic example of misalignment. Their Senior Leaders propagated one set of values while the employees felt forced by a set of unwritten rules to demonstrate other behaviours. Just this month, revelations have surfaced in Canada about employees at TDBank feeling pressured into selling products to customers.
So how do you know what values and behaviours are truly demonstrated by employees in your company?
The simple answer is to ask. Systems and processes are put in place with the best intentions to bring consistency and compliance. Unfortunately, there are often unintended by-products that can impact employee behaviour causing a misalignment between what is desired and what is rewarded. For example, an organization might stipulate innovation as one of their values but have a lengthy chain of approvals required to implement a pilot program. It’s hard to reward employees for innovative ideas when a time-consuming approval process impacts their ability to implement.
It’s not realistic to change all the systems and processes so employees can get what they want. Organizations need agile processes to meet the current business demands.  What you can do is listen and seek to understand the employee’s reality and realize what their experience is. Be prepared to listen and avoid defending the current state. If you really want to know what values and behaviors are driving your organizational culture, then you need to reserve judgement and simply listen. When was the last time you did that?
Give it a try and you will be taking the first step. Here are some conversation starters.
  • What contributes to a good day at work?
  • What contributes to a bad day at work?
  • If you had the ability to change two things to make you more productive, what would they be?
  • What words would you use to describe what it is like to work here?
  • Describe how the company values are demonstrated in daily work.
Thriving organizational cultures don’t happen overnight but you can make a significant impact with small changes. Understanding the employee’s perspective on values and behaviors is a great way to start as it can lead you to taking meaningful action.
Carolyn Swora
Carolyn Swora is a workplace culture architect who facilitates development in three core areas; Courage, Resilience and Belonging. Join Carolyn in a conversation via email, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Carolyn’s book, “Rules of Engagement”, is available on Amazon. You can also listen to PWE & ME, Carolyn’s Podcast.