Culture can be the beginning and end of your company. Many executives and other members of leadership simply think of corporate culture as what the company stands for. This can be expressed through a corporation’s mission statement, their reported “vision,” or their promise to deliver their customers with the best products and services available. Corporate culture actually goes much deeper, beneath the surface to which the consumer public is privy. The MISTI Training Institute actually defines corporate culture as “the set of enduring and underlying assumptions and norms that determine how things are actually done in the organization.” It is not enough for leadership to state that they have inspiring beliefs and mission statements, if they do not run corporations to reflect those beliefs.
Even after hearing a more definitive explanation of
corporate culture, many executives may still shrug their shoulders and insist
that they have a great corporate culture. They think operations are
streamlined, employees are engaged, and there are no weak links in the chain.
They take solace in the fact that they have things like Taco Tuesdays, or
Casual Fridays that improve the work environment and keep employees happy.
While these are great ways to foster comradery within the workforce, they are
band aid solutions to happy employees. The bottom line is: Healthy corporate
culture begins with happy employees.
A recent study conducted by Glassdoor indicates that a majority of working individuals in the United States would prefer a healthy corporate culture to a higher salary or rate of pay. Their day-to-day becomes manageable when they feel as if they are part of a larger team with a greater purpose. This graphic displays the cyclical nature of healthy corporate culture in motion. The cycle begins with happy employees. When trying to improve employee morale, leadership should strongly consider an internal audit of their company’s culture to identify pervasive issues within their corporation’s operating structure. Events like birthday parties for employees, or buying lunch for the office every few weeks are nice gestures by leadership, but they cannot act as solutions to repetitive issues. When these issues are not addressed within the corporation, employees often feel as if their value begins and ends with their productivity, as if they are cogs in a larger machine they cannot control. When leadership actively engages with employee concern on operation issues and makes dedicated and focused attempts to fix them, employees feel as if their voices are heard and their input is valued within the organization.
This leads to improved engagement on behalf of those valued
employees. They are prompt to work, freshly-groomed and instilled with a sense
of purpose as their co-workers progress with them towards the organization’s
goal. The level of communication between employees will not only improve in
quality, but the rate of response to correspondence also has the potential to
increase dramatically, because the employees are engaged in the process and are
eager to complete tasks on time—possibly even early.
Once employee engagement is up, leadership can expect to see
an increase in the productivity of the workforce as a whole. Engaged employees
approach their task with the confidence of a professional, and the confidence
that comes from the feeling of support within the organization. Studies have
shown that productivity can increase by as much as 28% when a corporation’s
culture is given a major overhaul.
When productivity increases, everybody in the company
benefits. Having their requisites satisfied, leadership can let their focus
extend beyond daily operations. This expanded scope of supervision leads to
higher engagement on behalf of leadership, which feeds back into a healthy work
environment in which they are happy to reward the stellar performance of their
employees. When employees feel their work is valued, the cycle begins anew.
This shared body of beliefs that the company claims to have
in the public eye should go all the way to the CEO and be directly reflected in
the day to day operations of the company. When leadership remains plugged in
and continues to expand the scope of their supervision, internal issues cannot
pervade within the workplace. In healthy work environments, the level of
improvement that can occur week to week will only serve the company’s larger
The biggest mistake executives make when trying to improve their corporate culture…
The corporate culture within any company, without question, effects their bottom-line day to day. Just to name a few avenues, this occurs through operations, interpersonal relationships between employees, and a level of engagement from leadership that requires consistent enforcement of their established mission and values. Because a corporation’s internal culture often remains hidden from consumer view, it’s not uncommon for leadership to simply restructure operations. Unfortunately, if every aspect of a company’s culture is not examined, this solution is just a band aid.
The Ice Berg Metaphor
When concerning a corporation’s culture, we often use the iceberg metaphor as a means of defining it. Ten percent of a corporation’s values and culture are above the water where the public and consumers can see it, and the other 90% lies below the surface. It’s that 90% that directly affects a company’s employee morale, productivity, and bottom line. A corporation often places its highest priority on how they are perceived by their consumer base, and therefore that 90% of company culture and values are either placed on the back burner, or corporations find themselves at a complete loss of how to get in front of the issues.
Some other band aid fixes for happy employees include things like discounted vending machines in the breakrooms, or regular celebrations of major holidays and birthdays. These lovely notions might improve culture for a day or even a week, but the pervasive internal problems will remain.
Happy employees are engaged employees. When a corporation’s culture is healthy, employees feel invested in the success of their companies. The company’s success becomes internalized as their own success, and they are more likely to be plugged in, to take initiative, and to think outside of the box when it comes to problem-solving.
When employees are leaning into their positions and actively working towards a company’s goals, that leads to smoother daily operations. Engaged employees are constantly finding ways to improve their processes so they can generate higher rates of productivity within their positions
When daily operations are streamlined, this yields higher levels of productivity within the company. An employee’s daily duties are no longer a monotonous checklist, but a recipe for success for their company. An engaged employee’s success is the success of everyone in the corporation, and the same is true of productivity. A single employee’s increased productivity is the entire company’s success. Not only does this set an example for all employees, but increased productivity is what helps a company grow, mature, and prosper.
This one is a no-brainer. Anyone who has ever been employed knows that a happy boss makes a happy employee. Leadership sees the increase in engagement and productivity and lean into that success. Good leadership will reward that success in tangible ways that will have long-term effects on the company’s culture. They promote or give raises to those employees who are giving 100%, empower those employees through collaboration and development, and are more open to the thoughts and ideas of employees who are contributing to their success.
When leadership is actively encouraging employees through a pure manifestation of the company’s mission and values, employees feel as if they are making a difference within their organization. This increases the feeling of purpose and desire for cooperative teamwork. These feelings inspire employees to continue their pattern of success through the diligent, genuine practice of a company’s established mission and values. Increased morale means happy employees, and that’s where the cycle begins anew, exponentially influencing a company’s success with each cycle.
Structure is Not Culture
The network of operations within a company will never have a direct effect on company morale. Poor daily operations due to structure are really just a symptom of unhealthy corporate culture—a manifestation of poor culture at work. To diagnose the problem, many corporations turn to independent firms to conduct corporate culture audits in order to identify the problems within a company or organization. These firms measure a company’s daily operations, their quality of communication, and interpersonal relations among employees—just to name a few factors. When a corporate culture audit is comprehensive and curtailed to the organization, the findings can be invaluable to leadership that seeks to grow and mature in tandem with their values.
As mentioned above, employees who see a consistent display of established values from leadership, they’re more engaged and productive. It’s one thing to have the company’s mission statement and list of values posted online or on the wall within a workplace. It’s a completely different ballgame when leadership puts their money where their mouth is, and serves as an example for the entire workforce. That example can have a ripple effect creating an interpersonal trust between employees, in which they all feel like they’re on a team, working towards the same goal. It is in the nucleus of that atmosphere where real change and growth begin.
The word whistle-blower can trigger many different feelings for Americans. Much of the nation has very dichotomous feelings about whistle-blowers, either lauding them as heroes, or vilifying them as saboteurs. Individuals at the center of these whistle-blower stories are cast in different roles depending on the route that external media decides to take. While spectators decide for themselves whether the whistle-blower had good intentions or otherwise, the real question we should be asking is what kind of corporate culture within their organization allowed these events to transpire?
Whistle-blowing is not to be confused with “leaking,” another term that often appears in these narratives. In short summation, whistle-blowing is actually defined under the Whistle-blower Protection Act, describing a disclosure of information that an employee “reasonably believes” demonstrates “a violation of law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; a gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific threat to public health and safety.” These actions amount to misconduct, and are actionable. “Leaking” describes the act of indiscriminately releasing company information, regardless of whether or not that information constitutes some degree of ethical violation. The term “leaker” can also be ascribed to a legitimate whistle-blower in order to discredit them.
In reality, it is a myth that most whistle-blowers are “snitches” who go directly to external sources like the press or watchdog groups to report their organization’s problems. In most cases that have been denoted as “whistle-blowing” there are documented attempts by the whistle-blower to try and resolve the issue within their corporation or organization. It’s when those attempts to resolve the issue internally are exhausted that whistle-blowers often find themselves without recourse, and go to the media in order to get their story out there.
This is why those who work in corporate ethics and corporate compliance recommend a healthy corporate culture in order to prevent whistle-blowing from occurring in the first place. Healthy corporate cultures promote a climate of excellent communication in the pursuit of a common goal (usually outlined by a corporation’s established values or mission statement). When an issue is brought to the attention of leadership, and they are inspired by a company’s mission statement to do something about it, that is where true corporate progress occurs. The effects of a healthy company culture can actually be cyclical. When an employee reports an issue or misconduct to leadership, they might expect to receive some push back. However, when that employee is carefully heard, and taken seriously, it can foster a sense of value in the workforce, as they now know they are agents who can effect change. This inspires a higher level of engagement in employees, which leads to higher rates of productivity, which in turn leads to happier leadership, who are then more inclined to reward employees for their hard work. That all increases morale on behalf of the entire workforce, leading to a healthy company culture.
When the goal is teamwork and collaboration, there is no need to turn to external sources to shed light on an issue. A healthy company culture will create a climate where internal issues can be discussed and resolved through teamwork—not through media attention and public outrage. Whistle-blowers are not heroes or villains, depending on who you believe, but rather a symptom of dysfunction within a corporation or organization that cannot afford to be ignored.