Demographics: Your culture is greatly influenced by the gender, age, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation and religion of your workforce. If some factors are especially dominant — that is, if there is an “in crowd” — those will shape the prevailing norms.
Talent decisions: Who gets hired, who gets fired and who gets promoted all send powerful messages to employees about what your organization truly values. Again, if the “in crowd” gets preferred treatment, others will likely feel disenfranchised and disengaged.
Performance management, compensation and recognition: How an organization rewards good performance — with money, with tokens of appreciation, in public or in private — shapes culture. Likewise, how poor performance is managed — with patience, support, reprimand or indifference — also is a strong determinant of culture.
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Work atmosphere: With the start of casual Friday decades ago, work dress began to change. Soon casual dress became the everyday norm. Then came the office cubicle, which was intended to reduce space requirements while enhancing collaboration. Eventually, the general office environment became more informal and seemingly more egalitarian. Some sectors — such as manufacturing, transportation or retail — involve shift work and little shared workspace. In those cases, employees have limited opportunity to connect and may not feel strongly connected to the larger organization. All these workplace factors influence how employees feel about their jobs.
Competing loyalties: Some employees may feel stronger ties to their profession, union or some other affiliation than to your company. Such strong allegiances may eclipse or undermine the connection they feel to your organization.
To understand your culture more fully, ask these questions:
▪ What are the dominant demographics in our workforce? On our leadership team? How do these affect our culture?
▪ How do we treat stars? And poor performers?
▪ What is the impact of our physical workspace and preferred dress?
▪ How could we strengthen a feeling of loyalty to our organization?
As a leader, you shape your culture every day with your words and deeds. But your fellow employees also have tremendous impact. So every hiring (and firing) decision can enhance, dilute or damage your culture. When developed by thoughtful leaders, culture can be a powerful lever for success.
Linda Clark-Santos, Ph.D., has extensive leadership experience in both the public and private sectors. LCSBUSINESSINSIDER@GMAIL.COM.