Remember Office Space? The 1999 cult classic about cubicle dwellers spoofed the worst aspects of modern organizational culture. 16 years later, the film, and it’s caricatures of the corporate world still hold up.
While obviously an extreme example, many modern offices suffer from the same issues as the fictional Initech. Unclear goals, muddled management structure, and a tendency to see employees as mice in wheels, instead of humans with brains.
There are potential stormy waters ahead. A tidal wave of Millennials is entering the workforce, and that generation has shown a severe allergy to traditional office practices. They’re also proving to be leading indicators for other generations, who have no problems following Millennials’ lead on corporate issues such as flexible working arrangements, corporate perks, technology, and much more.
Yet one survey showed that as much as 80% of employees say they’re motivated to do their jobs through coercion. Most people still aren’t getting invested in their jobs, they’re doing just enough to keep their bosses off their backs.
Regular employees aren’t the only ones suffering. A Harvard Medical study found that every one of the senior executives interviewed suffered from burnout.
We’re having a culture crisis in American offices, and it’s hurting employee engagement, which hurts customer engagement.
It’s a good time for every company to take a serious look at their culture, where it comes from, and where it needs to go.
The Chicken and Egg of Organization Culture
Where does a company’s culture come from?
Is it from the natural makeup of and interaction between employees on an everyday basis?
Or does it come from a management mandate, forcefully dictating certain characteristics and traits?
It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. And both scenarios are a bit dangerous.
Let employees alone set the tone and standards in an office and it can quickly spin out of control, especially since around 17% of employees are actively trying to sabotage their employer. Those foul attitudes can spread rapidly.
Conversely, an organizational culture dictated by management risks becoming coercive and forced. According to an LRN survey, 43% of employees describe their company as operating under this mantra.
The ideal corporate culture, naturally, is something in between. It’s a partnership between leadership and employees, with mutual investment and a consistent eye toward the overall prize of happy customers.
Shared Values, Not Rules
In the same LRN survey, just 3% of employees report working in a “self governed” environment, where each employee adheres to a “set of core principles and values that inspire everyone to align around a company's mission.”
In those companies, employees were inspired to act more ethically and more willing to share and act on good ideas. Naturally, they show higher employee loyalty, higher customer satisfaction, and more revenue.
The culture of a company should be built around a set of values and principles that align with the company’s mission. That mission should be to provide great products and services to customers. Anything that doesn’t contribute to, or detract from, that mission isn’t worth fussing over.
Extra paperwork (TPS reports anyone?) and policies probably aren’t going to contribute to a self-governing culture. HR and management can’t be hand holders. The focus in an office can’t be controlled through paperwork, forms and procedures (unless you want that environment to be crusty and exhausting).
Organizational culture is set by management but owned by the employees.
Employees need to be empowered to do whatever they need to do to better serve customers, and management needs to set the tone. That might mean flexible working arrangements, better benefits, higher compensation, fancier technology, a relaxed dress code, or any other number of adjustments. If the end result is happier customers (and therefore more revenue), then it’s worth the investment.