7 Tips to Promote a Positive Work Culture

Workplace Culture has always been important, but in today’s workplace it has probably never been so central to the success of an organization as it is now. With the US unemployment rate currently at the lowest it has been in 50 years, extra attention needs to be paid to developing a culture that leads to success, but also attracts and retains valued staff. Staff recruitment and retention is especially important in the nonprofit sector, where the salary and benefits are often not comparable to for-profit businesses. When people decide where to work and whether to stay in an organization, however, considerations such as salary are often not the driving factor in their decision. Rather, it is more often based on the mission of the organization, the people they work with and the workplace culture. 

There is some debate over the exact definition of workplace culture. It includes the values of an organization, consistent patterns of behaviors, as well as patterns of recognition and rewards. For me the simplest definition of workplace culture is ‘who we are, and the way we do things’. What is not really debatable, however, is the fact that workplace culture is one of the most, if not the foremost important factor in organizational success. As Peter Drucker famously said ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Developing effective workplace culture does seem to be the fastest way for real organizational achievements.

Positive work cultures reduce employee stress, create more engaged teams and lead to higher levels of loyalty. They also have much higher levels of productivity and creativity. If you are in a role where you lead a team, no matter how big or small, then you have the opportunity to develop and build a culture that leads to a positive and supportive place to work.

Creating a positive work culture is not a simple task. It can’t be created with a one time employee appreciation event or a single training.  Change doesn’t happen overnight, but instead results from the daily attention given to creating a positive culture. The most important thing is that leaders are intentional about the kind of culture they want to create. If attention isn’t paid to the ongoing development of workplace culture then it will develop into something different on its own. With ongoing focus however, positive change can result over time, and a move to a more positive workplace makes a better situation for everyone. 

There are many strategies to foster a positive work culture – here are some that I have seen be very effective in leading to change:

1) Share the Purpose and Provide Clear Goals & Direction – We spend a lot of time and energy at work and we all want to know that what we’re doing is for a reason and makes a difference. It is therefore essential that people can see their purpose and the difference they make, no matter what their role. It is important to find ways to clearly define the goals being worked towards, the rationale for decisions and the values of the organization.

2) Provide Opportunities for Growth and Learning – Developing a culture around ongoing learning and development can go a long way in creating a positive culture and in avoiding team members feeling stagnant in their roles. Learning and development should always be encouraged; I would argue even when it is not directly related to someone’s current role. Learning keeps people engaged, develops skills and knowledge and has numerous other benefits to both the individual and the organization as a whole.

3) Encourage Collaboration & Comradery – Teamwork and collaboration can be very important in overall job satisfaction and making team members feel supported. Indeed, when a team works well together they can achieve much more significant results than people working individually. Finding ways to develop teams and natural peer support helps everyone feel supported, especially in jobs where burnout is a hazard. The act of helping others at work is incredibly important. It not only assists those being helped, but for the ones giving assistance there are significant positive impacts also. Feeling like you are able to help, teach and mentor others at work is highly correlated to long term job satisfaction.

4) Give your Team Autonomy and Input into the Big Decisions – Most people HATE being told what to do and  lack of control is one of the primary causes of dissatisfaction at work. It is important that leaders are as transparent as possible and work hard to actively get the team involved. This does not mean you share every single thing with your team on an ongoing basis, but that you take care to share things in a thoughtful way. Encourage opportunities for everyone to give input into decisions (especially if they are going to be the ones implementing it). Having more people involved will most likely lead to more effective and creative decisions and will gain buy in from the whole team on changes and new projects.

5) Celebrate Success and Provide Recognition – Positive recognition is incredibly important. Some people certainly don’t enjoy public recognition, but it is important to take the time to know how someone likes to be recognized and the follow through with this. Recognition should be frequent enough to really impact the overall culture. It needs to be genuine and balanced (no, you don’t get a prize for just showing up). Sometimes the most important recognition is the everyday “Thank You” and the way you communicate appreciation on an ongoing basis with your team members. It is also important that when successful outcomes and big results happen, you take the time to pause and celebrate these achievements.

6) Remove Roadblocks – It is important that managers and leaders are open to hearing about problems and issues, as often there are easy fixes to causes of dissatisfaction. These typically include irritating policies, micromanagement or addressing negative people. Convoluted processes and unnecessary bureaucracy can be a huge source of frustration, so acknowledge these, advocate for changes and find ways to make things more streamlined. Your team will feel heard and valued, and simplification ultimately makes work a lot easier for everyone.

7) Set the Tone – A leader doesn’t need to have a permanent fake smile, but they do need to be aware that they often set the tone with their team. If the leader is in a constant state of stress or overly negative then this is disseminated to everyone and creates a culture that reflects this. When setbacks happen you don’t need to pretend they didn’t, but instead acknowledge them, put them in perspective and formulate a plan for moving forward. Most importantly stay positive, show compassion and help out the team. A positive and solution focused approach sets the tone for everyone and goes a long way to improving culture. A leader also needs to realize the huge role their routine behavior plays in creating the culture. Their daily interactions, the way they talk to people and their response to situations really does set the tone for the entire team. It certainly is not enough to say you value certain things, a leader has to demonstrate these values in every decision and in every interaction.

There are many other ways to develop a successful workplace culture.

What other tips do you have for creating positive work cultures?

What kind of things are detrimental to positive cultures?

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