Healthy Work Cultures Require Asking Tough Questions

September 3, 2019

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In the PR profession it’s rare to work within a silo. We rely on one another for knowledge, brainstorming and counsel. In fact, I often find the best work comes from conversations in which nobody remembers whose idea it was in the first place.

Diverse voices and opinions create more robust discussions. Not getting along with others simply isn’t an option. But what happens when an organization’s culture is “off”?

As business owners and managers, the work environment we create greatly affects how long employees stay with us and the overall success of our companies. The adage “People don’t leave companies; they leave people,” has never been truer than it is today. Unemployment is low and workers can easily find greener pastures if they’re unhappy in their current jobs. For business owners, employee turnover is expensive — and let’s face it, not fun.

A company culture that shares a mutual value and respect of its co-workers always trumps those full of A-players who can’t get along.

But what are the warning signs of a culture gone awry? Employees start asking to work from home. Their lunches get longer. Work quality starts to slip. Trust is broken. Collaboration becomes a chore. People are afraid to talk to you about their concerns. They start leaving. Clients start leaving. You might think about leaving, too.

Any of these conditions can result from external circumstances, but when things just don’t feel right in the office, a culture issue is the most likely culprit.

Set a cultural benchmark

To hit the reset button on your company’s culture, take stock of what you want that culture to be. Set a benchmark for it by asking yourself: When did things feel most natural? When were employees operating at the top of their games? As the owner, when were you doing your own best work?

It can be difficult to answer these questions on your own. Involve your leadership team and make it a group exercise. They will value being part of the conversation, and you will appreciate their support. Once you set a benchmark for your organization’s culture, identify what’s standing in the way of achieving it.

Listen, listen, listen

Consider having one-on-one conversations with your employees to ask them how they feel things are going in your company, why they like working there and what they would change about it. Take the opportunity to praise their best qualities and discuss how you can help them achieve their career goals. There’s a lot about your company culture that gets told between the lines.

Employee loyalty might seem fleeting, but a study from Bridge, which makes workforce-management software, showed that 90 percent of millennials are looking for career-development opportunities at their current companies. If people feel like you’re investing in them, they’re more likely to stay engaged with their work and with your company.

We have to pay attention to what we might need to change about our own leadership styles. Culture involves every person at the company, even the boss.

Look in the mirror

As owners it’s not easy to admit to ourselves that we might be part of our culture problem. Employees come and go, but agency owners are usually in it for the long haul. No matter how much we might love the work, the weight of running a firm is heavy and can become daunting. We’re human. We sometimes lose focus, become frustrated or overloaded, or take the wrong risks.

The good news is that we also get to steer our own ship. When you identify the issues hurting your company culture, take the wheel and change course swiftly to make the needed changes. Doing so demonstrates your commitment to leading a culture in which people are proud to work. You might be surprised how quickly things start to fall into place. 

Nicole Morgan

Nicole Morgan is CEO of Resolute PR in Tulsa, Okla., and an active member of Counselors Academy.

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