Expectations, behaviours and feedback: Five culture blockers you need to know

organisational-health culture

Source: Unsplash/Priscilla du Preez.

When it comes to the reasons a culture initiative may fail, it can’t be said that managers don’t try or don’t care.

In a McCrindle study commissioned of 1000 Australian middle managers, we sought to understand the experiences and beliefs about their role in culture to help determine what strengthens organisational culture, and what may cause culture initiatives to fail. Almost all the managers (99%) told us they believed that culture ‘definitely’ or ‘somewhat’ played an integral role in the overall success of an organisation, with a large proportion (74%) of those responding with ‘yes definitely’. Additionally, more than four in five believe that creating a healthy team culture is a crucial element of their role.

So why do some managers struggle to create the culture they want and instead tolerate the culture they have? Let’s take a look at five key culture blockers:

1. Expectations are left unspoken 

They may not be written down and we may not always be able to articulate them, but internally we all carry a set of expectations of how we would prefer things to be, which informs our actions and responses. These expectations are often carried but not communicated, leaving team members attempting to read between the lines of the way things get done. Tory Eletto said: “What isn’t communicated, is felt. What is felt, is interpreted. What is interpreted is often inaccurate.”

Tip 1: Take time with your team to surface what you value and hold in high regard individually, collectively and organisationally. As you uncover these expectations, seek to identify the common themes that you aspire to have as central to your team culture.

2. Behaviours are left undefined 

Only 36% of managers strongly agree that their organisational values are more than words and that the behavioural expectations are clearly defined. Values on the wall may tell people what you hold in high regard, but clearly defined behaviours show people how these values are lived out day-to-day. 

Tip 2: Involve your team in a conversation to create a set of shared behaviours that you agree will help shape the culture you aspire to create in your team.  

3. Communication is left unclear 

Only a third of people leaders see shared organisational language as an important ingredient for creating a healthy culture, which means they may be overlooking a valuable opportunity. Creating a shared language can empower the people on your team to talk about expectations and behaviours in a way that is both consistent and contagious. Your culture can become a language woven into the fabric of your day-to-day conversations when you share phrases, memes, mantras and stories that are both memorable and meaningful. 

Tip 3: Ask your team how they would talk to others about your culture. What words, phrases or stories would they use? Consider how you can capture and amplify them.

4. Feedback is left unsaid

Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker wrote that ‘the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.’ When critical feedback is left unsaid, cultural inconsistencies are left to thrive. This accountability flows in every direction of the team. The conversation you don’t have may just reinforce the culture you don’t want.  

Tip 4: Get clear on the behaviours that will not be tolerated on your team and empower each person on the team to address cultural inconsistencies when they see them.

5. Appreciation is left unrecognised

Nearly half of people leaders in our study said that a lack of reward and recognition contributes to an unhealthy culture in an organisation. There’s an old proverb that says, ‘No news is good news’. As it turns out, no news is actually very bad news for employees. According to Gallup, you’re about twice as likely to be actively disengaged at work when your manager ignores you compared to if they focus on your weaknesses or negative characteristics. Take the time to meaningfully reward the behaviours that build the team culture you aspire to create. Because ultimately, people repeat and replicate what they see recognised and rewarded. 

Tip 5: Make recognition more intentional by considering and then sharing how the celebrated behaviour connects to the team’s cultural aspiration.

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