Most of us are probably familiar with management moaning about regular employees and how they contribute so little, show little initiative and rarely speak up with any good ideas. Often, the implication is that employee quality and attitude is the problem. Management can be very good at deflecting responsibility and blaming employees is easy. The management response may be that employees are at fault and that we should be tougher on them and hire better people in the future – HR may also be blamed! The chances are that if management jump to these types of conclusions, they will not succeed in implementing positive change, either with existing employees or with new hires, no matter how enthusiastic they seemed when interviewed.
The work culture is not set by words, by lofty ideals, but by action. Corporate values may say one thing, but if management actions are significantly different, they will prevail. If you are seeking a culture with greater employee commitment and contribution, the environment has to be right. Some consistent problems, management related, are:
- Treating employee like children that cannot be trusted e.g. too many rules, restrictive policies, little tolerance and expecting management direction to be followed without question
- Excessive focus on time management including attendance, punctuality, not overstaying breaks and always appearing to be busy (not socializing) – more emphasis on being there and looking right , than on the quality of work
- Too controlling including the need for management approval on practically everything and the manager taking credit for anything positive, including putting his/her name on employee ideas and achievements
An organization with claustrophobic practices (examples above) may still expect employee innovation and “value added” contribution. There may be management campaigns to solicit employee suggestions and greater engagement. There may be generous awards and executive presentations to deserving employees, but the culture may not have advanced. It may be closer to management by exception – the same old ways but introducing a few brighter interludes.
To change to a more modern style and open culture, the executives have to take the lead. They will have to be very clear what they want to achieve and why. The reasons will have to be very specific as any significant cultural change will require considerable investment in money, time and include their recognition that they must also change if they are to spearhead the new direction. Almost certainly, they will require ongoing professional help, including HR, to track progress and to help them plan and understand what they must do and how their roles must change. Collectively the executive must commit to the change and accept their accountability for making it happen. If change does not happen, they must take responsibility – as with any other business initiative!
How difficult will it be if current employees and line management seem somewhat lacklustre? In my experience, if the environment changes, the attitude of regular employees will change also. They will change not based on management declarations and gimmicky programs, but on demonstrable action affecting day-to-day relationships – actions that are welcomed and reinforce greater trust and confidence in employees. As an example, implementing some aspects of flexible time is normally received very positively.
Line and other management will be the first to change. The changes will probably start from the time management become involved in the early parts of the study (where we are and where we want to be) and study of policies and practices to adjust appropriately to the new/desired culture. Management are equally products of their environment, and with executive new direction leadership and appropriate training, the majority may be very flexible in adapting to a better way of doing things.
Employees also may gradually accept that the changes are real and permanent and as mutual trust develops, previously submerged employee talent and allegiance may come to the surface and significant improvements should result. The new culture should improve business results, should increase morale and at the same time make the organization a desirable place to be which may greatly help in hiring new talent with the best skills.
Thank you for your interest. Do you have experience of cultural change that has worked well for you? What do you think is most important? How well do you think employees adapt to authentic management led cultural change? I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.