Do as I DO: Improving Workplace Culture Starts with YOU

I’ve never been a fan of drawing the comparisons between the parent-child relationship and extending those to the workplace – except when it comes to this one fundamental truth. People will always do as we do. It doesn’t matter what we say and what guidelines we set, or what values are posted around the building. In the end, people take their cue from leadership – starting with their first line manager. If you want to improve workplace culture and employee engagement, you have to start on your very own doorstep and start modelling the behaviour you want to see in your team.

Like it or not, behaviour always sends a message. Years of working in employee relations taught me to look not at what someone says but to focus instead on what they do. Actions speak louder than words, and you may unintentionally be killing your culture and causing your employees to fall physically ill or become burned out, purely just because of the message that your behaviour is sending them.

Consider for a moment a scenario where you are a mid-level employee, not in IT, working in a job that has typical 09:00 to 17:00 office hours.

If you receive an email from your boss at 22:30 at night, what happens? I am willing to bet that you open that mail immediately and feel some kind of pressure to action it immediately as well. I mean, why else would your boss send you an email at such a ridiculous hour, if it weren’t super urgent and important? What message is your boss sending you with their actions? When they tell you they support better work-life balance and strive for overall wellness, do you believe them, based on habitual late-night emails? Do you believe that they are good at managing their time or their priorities if they are always causing chaos late at night?

I would invite you to complete a personal retrospective and establish whether you’re perhaps guilty of telling more than asking, or of being too autocratic and not empowering your team to innovate and get their work done. Perhaps you are guilty of sending those late-night emails or not communicating the ‘why’ when asking your team to deliver on a task. This is a whole other exercise and article all on its own, and you might need to work with a coach on identifying your blind spots and improving as a leader.

On a larger scale, here is what you can do in your team right now to get everyone on the same page, and to really start working towards improving culture and engagement in your team:

  1. Start with the company values

Work together with your team and really unpack the meaning of each of your company’s core values and how they look and feel like in your team. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that not everyone has the same definition of ‘accountability’ or ‘teamwork’ or ‘wellness’. This is perfectly normal and to be expected. Consider, for example, what work-life balance may look like to a young Gen Z intern who is single, with no children or financial responsibilities, compared to the divorced Gen X dad who only sees his kids every second weekend, or the single mom with young children in kindergarten. It’s important to socialize a shared definition and understanding in your team.

  1. Unpack the behaviours

Once everyone agrees on the meaning of a core value, you can start to unpack it further into behaviours that support that value and help it live and thrive in the team, versus those behaviours that contradict the value and break it down and reduce its importance in the team.

It’s a really good idea to actually reduce these example behaviours to writing and circulate in the entire team.

  1. Accountability, feedback and recognition

In your team, agree on a method for providing feedback and keeping each other accountable for behaviours.

It’s important to be able to call anyone in the team out on behaviour that is negative, but to do so in a manner that actually improves interpersonal relationships and builds collaboration. Similarly, it is important to recognize and reward the desired behaviour. Recognize publicly – it’s always motivational and a great morale booster.

When you start implementing this model, you may find it somewhat challenging at first to unlearn some of the bad habits you have picked up over the years. Don’t give up and stick with it, because the payoff will be a highly engaged and collaborative team with a great culture, reduced absenteeism and reduced turnover rates. Model the change you wish to see.


Deborah Hartung - http://www.deborahhartung.com

Deborah Hartung is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker.

She has spent almost 20 years advising corporates on matters relating to employee relations, corporate culture and leadership development. Deborah is passionate about people and technology, the human experience in the workplace and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age. 

Especially popular with young or first-time leaders, entrepreneurs and women in leadership, Deborah encourages all those she meets to align with their purpose and to be brave enough to be authentic in all their interactions.  She writes about life, love, leadership, workplace culture, the future of work and the importance of making the world a kinder, more tolerant place

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