Fluid Workforce

LIKE A BODY OF WATER, a company's culture should be fluid. The more receptive companies and their employees are to performance improvement efforts, the more likely a culture of boosting productivity will spill over into profits.

Research has shown that work culture can be measured and that various principles exist to help industry leaders diagnose and remedy problems to significantly influence and improve performance. Whether a company's objectives call for rolling out new software, reducing costs or improving safety, a high-performing culture also plays a critical role in keeping the company competitive.

So how do companies determine whether their culture needs improvement?

High-performing cultures have collaboration and trust between management and employees. These companies also engage in the goals of the organization and are accountable to coworkers.

Conversely, low-performing cultures are characterized by ongoing poor performance despite continued efforts to improve a “not my job” mentality among employees, a perceived dichotomy between new procedures and existing tasks, and poor communication.

Organizational psychology research has identified nine characteristics symptomatic of successful performance. Companies with higher levels of these characteristics tend to generate change more rapidly and achieve higher performance in critical business functions. The characteristics are:

  1. Teamwork: The effectiveness of workgroups in meeting targets and deadlines,

  2. Workgroup relations: The degree to which coworkers treat each other with respect and listen to each other's ideas,

  3. Procedural justice: The level that workers rate the fairness of first-level supervisors,

  4. Perceived support: The level to which employees feel the organization is concerned for their well-being,

  5. Leader-member exchange: The perceived strength of the relationship that workers feel they have with their supervisors,

  6. Management credibility: The perception of consistency and fairness of management in dealing with workers,

  7. Organizational value for goals: The level of the organization's overall commitment to its stated objectives,

  8. Upward communication: The adequacy of upward messages about performance, and

  9. Approaching others: The probability that workers will speak to each other about performance issues.

Leaders, from supervisors and managers on up, have tremendous influence on shaping the working culture of their employees through their day-to-day actions. Even if an organization has not undertaken a comprehensive culture evaluation, there are some basic steps that can immediately begin to foster the characteristics of high performance.

These principles give companies an excellent starting point for fostering a culture in which productivity, safety, employee morale, and profitability thrive:

  • Demonstrate support: Engage employees in discussions about organization or operational changes and collaborate on solutions to perceived problems;

  • Strengthen relationships through reports: Ask how employees are doing, check with them on concerns and give out thoughtful responses to suggestions;

  • Show fairness: Make sure policies and procedures, such as promotions or disciplinary actions, are fair, consistent and visible;

  • Demonstrate credibility: Follow through on commitments to employees, “walk the talk” when it comes to following new procedures and be open about the reasoning behind decisions;

  • Build stronger workgroups: Set expectations for “fair play” and have management model them in their interactions with others;

  • Show that objectives matter: Evaluate the message management's actions send and align those actions to mirror stated objectives; and

  • Encourage communication: Initiate conversations about performance concerns and allow workers to speak without interruption, recognizing the value in their ideas.

All employees play a part in achieving a company's objectives. Optimally, businesses will engage their whole organizations through comprehensive evaluations, defined goals and regular feedback developed from specific culture change strategies. Employees are more likely to invest in goals whose value has been illustrated.

But by starting with a few simple steps and encouraging others to follow the lead, companies can begin the process of creating high-performing cultures.

The sooner waste companies deal with their work culture baggage, the sooner they'll be able to address those bags on the curb.