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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Why organisational culture is a Game Changer for workplace engagement

Organisational culture: A key ingredient to staff engagement

Have you ever walked into an agency for a job interview, or maybe been asked to provide a presentation or workshop at another organisation and, as you walked through the front door you’ve unconsciously hunched your shoulders and wondered why?

Alternatively, have you ever walked into a room full of people from other organisations who have perhaps come together to develop a new policy or program, you’ve never met any of them, and you immediately feel welcome and energised, and find yourself making eye contact and smiling around the group? 

I’ve experienced both scenarios.
In one case I presented a training session where the mixed gender attendees all wore black or dark suits with white shirts, and refused to interact or even talk to one another except snarl at each other. Whether the workshop representatives actually meant to or not, their behaviour and work suits had created an immediate first impression and formed my view of their agency’s culture.
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In another, I attended an annual "catch-up" session presented by the Secretary, who was articulate, funny and was sitting comfortably on a couch in front of a large group of a mixed bunch of managers and staff. When he asked for questions, people's hands literally shot up. He listened closely to each question and, on one occasion, admitted he didn't know the answer and asked the forum if anyone knew the answer.

Which organisation would you prefer to work at?

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Why culture is a Game Changer in workplace engagement

Organisational culture is one of the key game changers that shape a work environment and acts as an enabler for people to produce poor, or (preferably) good to outstanding business results.

Another way to look at it is, good culture allows people to feel safe enough to be at their creative best, and engage with the issues that help move forward critical programs. In these organisations, people are generally much more likely to be productive and yet demonstrate mutual respect. You probably know if your organisation has a reasonable or good culture because people generally interact politely, may feel comfortable enough to laugh while they're working, are empowered to provide feedback when asked, and/or are comfortable to raise questions directly with the boss during the regular employee “catch-up” group meetings. In other words, people are engaged and prepared to take some minor personal risks, such as showing that they're enjoying their work.

A poor workplace culture tends to create a quieter, herd environment where people stick together as a protective measure so that individuals are not cut down like tall poppies. You may suspect your organisation’s culture is poor because face-to-face group meetings with the boss or supervisor(s) may be rare, and when they do occur, only the boss and/or key managers talk, the meeting is short and quiet, and people avoid participating or interacting (except through anonymous online surveys). 

Other signs that your workplace culture may be poor and perhaps even bullying or abusive (Mattice, 2016) include:

  • A general reluctance to participate in meetings and "catch-up" meetings tend to be quiet with only the boss or other managers talking or raising questions.
  • Work cliques indicate those people who are more likely to be invited to, or participate at, social work gatherings.
  • People use work email or other work technologies to communicate and avoid face-to-face interactions.
  • An increase, or sudden jump, in staff absenteeism, confusion about job responsibilities, or constant organisational re-engineering, or goal changing.
  • Frequent load outbursts that sometimes lead to abusive telephone calls, emails or sms.
  • Unresolved conflict and conscious tension between employees, groups, or divisions.
  • Frequent miscommunication leading to misunderstandings and aggressive online and offline behaviour.
  • Productivity decreases.
  • Practical jokes or sarcasm are ignored, despite clearly upsetting the recipient.
  • High achievers suddenly receive average to poor performance evaluations, relocate within the agency, or  leave.

As I’ve said in other posts, culture can be a barrier to resolving face-to-face workplace bullying, where organisations characterised by a hierarchical structure and management style may be unaware that their culture is a bullying one (Boucaut, 2003). 

In this sense, culture is perceived as an enabling tool that can be used or abused by powerful organisational groups, such as the executive or middle management, to shape the values, attitudes and behaviours of other less powerful organisational members. In large organisations, culture is expressed through explicit and implicit rules. 

Four types of workplace culture

Collaborative. Is your office environment one in which team members band together in open dialogue? Is there an attitude of shared ownership and a passion for problem-solving? Or are your team members isolated and insular, working privately and not together?
Creative. Would you characterise your work-space as one in which innovation is valued and fostered? Do your team members feel comfortable bringing up new ideas or experimenting with the way things are done, or do they all follow tradition, to “the way we’ve always done things”?
Controlled. Do you have an extremely formal, rules-based workplace,where people feel like they have to do things in a certain way or else face dire consequences? Does your workplace emphasize dependability and hierarchical authority?
Competitive. Are your team members working to outdo one another, to bring in the best results on the company’s behalf? Is there a “survival of the fittest” mentality in your workplace culture? Is your organization unified by a zeal for winning, however you may define that term?

How to diagnose your workplace culture.

Culture audits can be used to assess workplace culture and may include tools such as: (a.) culture walks, observation in the workplace; (b.) culture interviews or focus groups of employees; (c.) individual employee culture interviews; (d.) culture surveys, often developed internally based on collected information; and/or (e.) commercially available instruments.

However, one of the simplest ways of diagnosing your workplace culture is to start asking questions such as:

  • What would you tell a friend about your organisation if he or she were about to start working here?
  • What barriers do you experience as you try to accomplish your work? 
  • What is the one thing you would most like to change about this organisation?
  • Who is a hero around here? Why?
  • What is your favourite quality that is present in your company?
  • Who succeeds in your company?
  • What kinds of people fail in your organisation?
  • What is your favourite question to ask a candidate for a job in your company?
  • What are the goals of your organisation?
  • What is the vision your organisation is seeking to achieve?
  • Do the organisation's policies and procedures support your efforts to accomplish work or do they impede your progress?
  • What stories do current employees tell new employees about your organisation when they join the organisation?
  • What is your favourite story, the story you share most frequently, about your organisation?
Dr Lawrence, the founder of Stop Workplace Cyberbullying, has a BA SSc and PhD in organisational social psychology. She  works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture. E: or LinkedIn or Twitter

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Social revolution: Are mobile technologies blurring work-home lines?

Mobile technologies and the social revolution 

Is mobile technology changing workplace behaviour?

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This important question, is human kind facing a social revolution through mobile technologies, is one that is now being asked across the world. And no wonder... 

- According to workplace researchers (Kraft, 2006) mobile technologies are seen as a catalyst for changing the social rules governing our workplaces, and blurring previously clear demarcations between work and home.

- Since 2007, the accepted view is that “computing doesn't belong just in cyberspace”, it happens in the real world, anywhere and at any time (Grossman, 2007).

John Sundberg, a key founder of Kinetic Data, wrote in March 2015 that the impact of new technologies on our social and work environments is so fundamental that we are looking at a new era.

Are we looking at a culture change?

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Some of us remember the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. I'm not sure I paid a huge amount of attention at the time as I didn't realise the real potential of this mobile device.

What this relatively small device represented was the first “handheld, walk-around computer” (Grossman, 2007).

It has created the opportunity for what is now described as globalised “mass connectivity” that has “enabled human generated data, and now machine generated data, to flood through our global networks…” (Livingstone, 2015) and transform our work and home lives.

The “cultural change wrought by the internet has been profound.” (Williams, 2015, p. 12). 

Social revolution and disruptive technology

Workplace researchers now assert that mobile, online communications is transforming (or even disrupting), how humans think, communicate and socialise with one another (Hinduja & Patchin, 2013; Oliver & Candappa, 2003; Wang, Iannotti, Luk, 2010; Williams & Guerra, 2007; Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004). 

And the funny thing is, we don't even realise, unless we read something and thing about it, that  this change is happening to us and our social environment and culture.

If you read studies by workplace cyberbullying researchers (some are definitly worth the read! take a look at my thesis : - )), you will learn that the lines between the physical and virtual worlds are now so blurred (Monks & Coyne, 2011) that workplace participants (employers and employees) feel permanently connected to work irrespective of the time of day. 

Technology is both enhancing, and transforming, our private and workplace behaviour (Tidwell & Walther, 2002) on both a conscious and subconscious level. 

This feeling of being constantly accessible to one another, and being accessible 24/7 to work through mobile technologies, is being viewed as a catalyst for changing the social rules governing our workplaces and undermining previously clear work - private life demarcations (Kraft, 2006).

It is important to realise that this transformation has human social psychology implications, particularly around accepted social norms, as the new technology increasingly enables people to instantaneously broadcast thoughtless or malicious online comments that can quickly escalate with dire consequences (Cross, Shaw, Hearn, Epstein, Monks, Lester, & Thomas, 2009; Li, 2007). 

Workplace implications 

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The UK's Business Computing World recently released an article that stated  "every once in a while, a [technological] development so fundamental and profound ...that it reorients the profession."

This changing environment has arguably developed new or refreshed roles and responsibilities for employers who have a duty of care to provide employees with a safe working environment (West, Foster, Levin, Edmison, & Robibera, 2014). This is concerning since the potential for online harassment and bullying in the workplace is growing along with the influx of mobile technologies.

In March 2015, John Sundberg, a key founder of Kinetic Data, wrote that the impact of new technologies on our social and work environments is so fundamental that we are looking at a new era, with mobile access overtaking desktop usage, and a new generation (millenials) who have grown up with mobile technologies are now entering the workforce expecting workplace software and applications to be easy to use, social, and mobile.

Sunderber suggests workplaces consider the four practical steps to adapt to the "wave of change crashing over IT and business operations" today:

  Redesign processes from the internal customer perspective. - See more at:
1. Redesign processes from the internal customer perspective.

2. Implement new delivery models such as enterprise request management (ERM) for service requests and schedule-based (like Apple Genius Bars) service delivery. 

3. Adapt to revolutionary developments using gradual change. 

4. Recognise the need for business change, not just adaptation by IT.

Dr Lawrence has a BA SSc and PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture.

Redesign processes from the internal customer perspective. Rather than designing processes for the convenience of service-delivery groups, begin with the objective of a “delighted customer” then work backward. Automate processes and strip out redundant steps and manual efforts wherever feasible along the way, to optimise efficiency and accuracy.
2. Implement new delivery models such as enterprise request management (ERM) for service requests and schedule-based (like Apple Genius Bars) service delivery. Both approaches improve the service experience, particularly for mobile and remote workers.
3. Adapt to revolutionary developments using gradual change. Despite the rapid scope and pace of changes in user expectations, big-bang “rip and replace” responses are not always the best approach; not only is replacement of core management and control systems enormously costly, it also inevitably means unforeseen delays and business disruption. Instead, utilise agile service request management and “lightweight” business process automation (BPA) to design, test, modify, deploy, measure and optimise new processes gradually, starting with the most common or painful and incrementally increasing the portfolio of services offered over time.
4. Recognise the need for business change, not just adaptation by IT. Increasing expectations for consumer-like technology and experiences impact departments and functions across organisations, not only IT groups. IT is in ideally positioned, however, to assist other functional groups in adapting to evolving employee expectations, for example by extending the concept of IT service catalogs across the enterprise, to HR, facilities, finance, and other shared services groups. The tools deployed should empower business process owners anywhere in the organisation to design and optimise their own task workflow processes, with minimal technical assistance needed.
It’s clear is IT groups need to shed the image of being “defensive, late, overpriced, uninformed and unhelpful.” IT leaders and their teams must adapt to these changes, and others, while continuing to provide the business with “guide rails” in areas like cloud computing and BYOD (for security and cost reasons). And the emphasis needs to be on collaboration rather than control. Evolution or revolution—where do you think technology is at today?
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