Why Workplace Culture ISN’T a Priority

If you improved workplace culture by, say 5%, would everyone in your team feel it? Would a 5% improvement in organisational culture have such an impact that most people in your organisation would notice a difference? We’d guess the answer to these questions is ‘no’.

That’s because culture is such a complex thing – so complex that direct cause-effect relationships cannot usually be observed.

A slight improvement in culture might mean people are slightly happier, and that unhappy people are less unhappy. And in the medium to long term, this improvement would probably add substantially to bottom line results. But in the busy-ness of day to day work, immediate impacts might not be felt within an organisation.

That’s in contrast to other business initiatives that are implemented for a direct, observable impact. The appointment of a new leader, or the implementation of a new IT system, or the trial of a new marketing strategy are examples of changes that impact directly and unequivocally on people and organisations.

Because of the complex cause-effect relationship between culture and results, there is a very real risk that expedience takes over. Expedience relates to taking the most direct, but not necessarily the most effective action. Under an ‘expedient’ mindset, short cuts are taken in the interest of getting to an end-point. And it’s possible that expedience might drive decisions that compromise culture, but for which there are no direct, observable impacts, at least in the short term.

In our presentations, we sometimes show a short real-life video of a leader in action. She is portrayed in three different contexts working with her people, and it is clear for all to see that this leader is not a ‘model’ leader! She has an abrupt, authoritarian, and barnstorming style.

After showing the video, we ask people to consider whether this leader’s style works. This is a question that generates great debate!

We don’t mean to play on words here, but the answer to whether or not this leader’s style ‘works’ is, of course, ‘Yes’!

Her leadership style clearly gets results.

However, the key issue is whether it ‘works’ as well as it could, and of course the answer to that is a resounding ‘No’!

Under this person’s leadership, there are some extremely strong and negative unwritten ground rules (UGRs) that are created, one of which includes ‘Around here, it’s not worth giving extra effort, as no-one recognises it’.

And this is the problem of expedience. Expedience gets results, but importantly, it doesn’t get the best results. Unfortunately, expedience occurs in business areas that are so complex, that often the individuals involved are incapable of understanding that better results are possible. So expedience, continues to rule.