Workplace culture is the "what", "why", and "how" of organization. It is what work is being done and what resources the organization has to do that work, why that work is being done and how those reasons are communicated to employees, and how people work together and make decisions. MeghanIMAG0188 Biro, in a blog post for Forbes titled "Your Employees Are Engaged...REALLY?", makes a distinction between the "what" and "why" of workplace culture. While I agree that employee engagement is heightened when employees know why things are done the way they are done (for example, work environment, benefits, promotions), managers must also pay attention to how things are done. Dov Seidman explains this concept in his book, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything. He says, for example, in a self-governance culture: 

People at all levels of the company are trusted to act on their own initiative and to collaboratively innovate; a shared purpose and common values guide employee and company behavior.

Examples of "how" are offered in Marla Gottschalk's blog post How to Develop a More Creative Workplace. She gives some excellent suggestions for how managers can promote creativity. For example, she recommends giving employees a notebook for recording their thoughts and ideas about customers, products, and processes. By doing the things she suggests and making the time and space for these activities, management is communicating the message that they value everyone and need everyone's input in order to be a successful organization. This is powerful. In addition to collecting creative ideas for new products, improving customer service, and solving problems, it is likely that employees will feel more valued and be more motivated to work hard and do their best in that culture. Soon the expectation is set and nurtured that this is a company in which everyone works hard and does their best. 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is a software development company that has aligned its culture with its business goals. They have found that to produce creative, useful solutions for their customers, they need to support a particular kind of work environment. They describe that culture in this way:

The Menlo WayTM is defined by JOY through the following practices:

  • pairing; no one works alone
  • High-Tech AnthropologyR
  • open and collaborative workspace
  • high speed voice technologyTM
  • daily stand up
  • 40 hour work weeks
  • pets and babies at work
  • making mistakes faster
  • doing the simplest thing that could possibly work
  • origami project management
  • work authorization boards; storycards, yarn, and stickers
  • estimation without fear
  • integrated quality advocacy
  • test-driven development

Clearly, how people work together and support each other is considered to be essential to the success of Menlo. They value collaboration and creativity and nurture a culture that communicates these values. 

In an interview that Dave Summers did with fomer Corning Glass exec Lina Echeverría, she is quoted as saying:

I was reading a website that was talking about the different rules for innovation. Many people have said "You should do this, you should do that, you should expect, you should choose from, you should know how to select", but if you do not have the culture that believes that innovation is everybody's role...not only that..that innovation is accessible to everybody. If you do not have that culture that says "I am also creative and I'm empowered to use that creativity as part of the overall goals of the organization, then you don't have much.

Processes can be wonderful, but they are not the real driver. The real driver is that culture that says "Let's make it happen!"

This is why I think culture is so important to an engaged, creative workforce. How you do your work says volumes about what leaders value. It's not "pets and babies at work" or jelly beans on every desk or shuffleboard in the employee lounge. What matters is the message that the culture communicates to employees. When done right, employees feel like management cares what they think and that what they do matters to the success of the company.

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