What happens when your workplace traditions get lost?

Culture has been a workplace buzzword for some time now and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. There are many ways to describe what culture is and I hear all sorts of definitions. For this blog let’s go with the first definition that comes up in Google: “Company culture is the company’s personality”. I quite like this — it is simple and to the point.

Now let’s look at the definition of traditions, which from the first search on Google I read: “The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation”.

I have found from personal experience that a large part of our company culture has come from our workplace traditions; the way we do things, what we believe, how we tell our story, and the way in which we go about our work.

Mid last year, we experienced a change in our company culture. I had been spending a lot of time in our interstate office and when I came back it just didn’t feel the same. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but it felt like our “personality” was different.

Why did it feel different? Why was the vibe not quite the same? It quickly became my mission to work out what had happened, as it was not okay for it to be just because the boss was not in the office as much!

Obviously, it was the culture that was not the same but what I found out was that many of our long-standing workplace traditions had been lost. With new people coming on board and a change in management, over a relatively short amount of time the message of how we do some things was lost in translation or forgotten and not passed on as it had been in the past.

I obviously place a lot of importance in our workplace traditions — otherwise I wouldn’t have implemented them in the first place — however, I didn’t realise just how important they were to our culture until they had stopped.

These traditions included small activities such as how we celebrate new business, the structure of our Friday afternoon share and care catch ups, our weekly internal training methodology, promptness to meetings, more talking less typing, how we greet our visitors, and the way we speak our values. A variety of little unique wattsnext ways that we live by.

Without these we had lost our ‘secret sauce’ or our personality, and our culture began to change.

It wasn’t necessarily all bad, but it wasn’t us because we weren’t following our traditions. They had not been ‘passed down’ through the generations’!

Once I realised this I quickly responded by re-engaging the team with our traditions. This became my number one focus. I explained where they came from, why we do them and what it means to be us. I also put them in written and video format so I could regularly remind the team. I am happy to say that in a short amount of time we were back looking and feeling like us! We now regularly talk about these traditions and welcome the creation of new ones.

So, what are your company traditions? What is different and unique about how you work? What would happen if they suddenly stopped? What impact would that have on your results and your culture?

Maybe you haven’t thought about this before. I highly recommend you talk about your traditions with your team and get them documented in some format so when new people come on board you can ensure that the message is being passed on exactly how you want it to.

Sue-Ellen Watts is the Founder of national HR consulting firm wattsnext. Sue-Ellen and her team of professionals are enablers of business growth through relevant HR for the modern world. 


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