“We need to change the culture of this organisation!” Whenever I hear this war cry, I cringe. Culture cannot be imposed; it must be discovered. What is frequently overlooked is the fact that the culture of an organisation is contained in the hearts and minds of the people it employs. It is already there, waiting to be expressed. To the extent that we allow that culture to be expressed, a range of benefits will emerge. If we don’t allow that culture to be expressed, an organisation will always fall far short of its potential.

I often ask employees to tell me what they expect of their employer. It is amazing how consistent the response is irrespective of the industry, from specialist medical practices to manufacturing. The first expectation is to be ethical. This is, of course, a term that has many shades, but in essence, what employees want is to be able to look customers in the eye and feel that they have done them a good service and that they give value for money. They don’t want to cheat or do something that is shady or questionable. They want to be perceived as honest.
In a workshop that I conducted with a group of rookie executives at the University of California, Riverside, which consisted of people from Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Argentina, I received the same response. These people also said that what they expected in their work was:

  • Open communication.
  • Positive feedback.
  • Management that would listen to them and respond to their input.
  • Clear goals and an ability to verify them.
  • To have fun.

Across Australia and worldwide, employees consistently tell me the same thing. What better culture can you have than people who want to be ethical, have input into how the business is operating, get positive feedback from management, be able to set goals and achieve them, and have fun while they are doing it?

The overwhelming desire of most people in the workplace is to do good, to have fun and be proud of where they work. The challenge to management is to give free rein to these aspirations and let loose the culture that is bursting to be expressed. Unfortunately, a competing challenge is to report good quarterly figures. Letting the culture become established might not do too much in the first few quarters of the regime but the long-term sustainability of the organisation will be more secure and many more people will be happier going to work each day.

Source: BRW Magazine, by Louis Coutts