Can Employees Influence Culture?

In many of the organisations with which we work, employees have given up hope. They’ve given up on the possibility of leaders treating them more positively, of their team being supportive, of the organisation recognising them as real people, and of the culture getting any better.

It’s sad, but true – many, many people are unhappy at work, but feel powerless to change things. These people are going through the motions – doing enough not to get them in strife, but not contributing in any meaningful way. In engagement parlance, they are either disengaged or actively disengaged.

We’ve also learned over the years that leaders are often in the same boat. These people feel that the people who report to them are lacking in initiative and do the minimum required. They wish for more positive employees, and lament the fact that when new people commence work, they are starry eyed and positive, only to ‘turn’ in the short term. These leaders have also given up hope.

Adding substantially to the burden carried by leaders is false thinking. These leaders believe that the culture of the workplace is their sole responsibility. This view is often reinforced by employees who, at least metaphorically but sometime literally, point upwards while at the same time saying ‘If only they’d fix things up, we’d be OK’.

Of course, while this scenario plays out, nothing will change.

In our work with organisations, we assert that employees play their part when it comes to culture. We reflect on the fact that some good leaders have ‘ordinary’ cultures. And that some ‘ordinary’ leaders have good cultures. Why? Because of the staff.

Our UGRs (unwritten ground rules) work helps people come to the realisation that everyone is involved in UGRs and therefore the culture. This fact alone can be liberating for some – they realise that the culture is not the sole province of leaders.

It’s also liberating for some leaders – taking the weight of the entire culture off their shoulders.

What’s required next? People need a structure (process) and language to talk about the culture, and to fight for the kind of culture that will contribute to the organisation’s success and make it a great place to work. That in a nutshell is how our UGRs process works…

Can employees influence culture? You bet!