Archive for March, 2010

Inviting a Healthy Culture

When I look back on my career, there was a time when the CEO wanted to dictate what the culture would be – it was his vision of how employees would work, interact and generally feel about their employment at our organization.  He even went as far as putting me, the Director of HR, in charge of  Culture.  Luckily, we had a great group of people who put a great deal of personal stock into the company, were incredibly loyal and actually had fun at work.  I did a great job!  I was just fortunate.  What I learned was that no one creates a culture – the culture creates itself.  What we had done was set a behavioral foundation where the employees chose to be productive, loyal and fun.  So what was this “behavioral foundation”?  The CEO was very patriarchal – he took care of the employee’s needs at an individual level.  I recall him finding out that one of our engineer’s was having trouble getting a mortgage to buy a house.  He personally lent this employee money from his own funds.  He was always the first one there when someone was experiencing a difficulty in life – willing to share his time, expertise, network and personal funds.  In turn, our employees were fiercely loyal.  Out turnover was so minimal, despite the fact that we knew they were being courted.  It wasn’t just the CEO – our management team reflected the same values; they “took care” of their employees faithfully.  As DHR, I had an open door to all employees, serving each one who sought me out with personal care and attention that was genuine and sincere.  

Boy, did we have fun at work.  Our CEO would blast through the door in engineering and announce that everyone was to stop working and start playing and interactive game. Imagine thirty people laughing and acting like children full of glee.   We had parties and picnics.  We had traditions – if you misplaced your name badge, someone would find it, photocopy it, and plaster it everywhere – even the bathrooms.  Our software team would often spend entire weekends – 72 hours – preparing units for Monday shipments.  We instituted the “Software Pajama Parties” – pizza and other tasty food, with plenty of drop in company from supporting employee fold.  We truly had the sentiment of “TGIM” – thank God it’s Monday!

So what was the magic formula?  We had faith in our staff.  We trusted and allowed them to make decisions.  We allowed mistakes, although a lesson must be learnt.  We treated everyone with respect.  We valued their work and offered personal kudos for achievement.  We were innovative, allowing and encouraging new ideas.  We invested in our employees; many were promoted into high ranks.

We also had what I term “bonding moments” – ski trips on a bus in the East Coast snowstorms – where everyone got to know who everyone was.  They were incredibly fun and eventful.  We were family.

There are good and healthy cultures everywhere, some completely different than the one I described.  Harrison and Stokes (Diagnosing Organizational Culture) contend that there are four cultural archetypes: 

  •  The Achievement Orientation – offers a great deal of intrinsic satisfaction with their work;
  • The Support Orientation – based on mutual trust between the organization and the employee;
  • The Power Orientation – characterized by rewards and punishment and a desire to be assoicated with a stong leader;
  • The Role Orientation – people perform specific functions in order to receive defined rewards. 

 There is a bit of all four in every organization, but in general, an organization is strongly exemplified by one type.  None are better than the other; but the dynamics are stipulated by the archetype and require an adherence to the cultural rules.

No matter what the Orientation, three things must be present for employees to be productive, happy and loyal:  they must feel respected, they must feel valued and they must derive some sense of fulfillment.  If any of the three are absent, the employee may become problematic or they will seek to leave.  Focus on these elements as a manager or owner – treat everyone with respect simply because they are human beings, show that you value your employee’s work, not just by wages, but thank you’s, treats and smiles and help them get the most they can out of their time with your organization.  Challenge, provide training, show your trust. 

Remember that you set the stage that invites the culture.


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Cathy S. Taylor, SPHR