Does Your Culture Need to Change?

Identify, implement, and support the right culture for your business

by Haworth, Inc.

A healthy organizational culture is a catalyst for employee engagement, collaboration, and innovation—three things that are critical to business success. But even more important is understanding how to create a culture that aligns with your overall business goals. The right culture will fully support the efforts of the people who work there. If you’re unsure of what your organizational culture should be, or—worse yet— if you assume your culture is great because everyone seems happy, you risk never realizing the full potential of your organization or your people.

Culture is More Than Office Parties and Pool Tables

Have you heard about those companies that everyone supposedly wants to work for because they have slides in the office and offer free lunches? Those things are great, but they don’t go far if you otherwise have a misaligned culture.

If you really want to support the kind of employee engagement and creativity that drives success, you need to create the right environment—one that supports the types of work needing to be completed. If you find that your current culture isn’t in sync with your goals and the way your people work, you probably have some work to do.

ID Your Culture

There’s no single culture that works for all businesses. Just because something works for Apple or Google doesn’t mean it’s right for your organization. Your culture needs to support your people, the work they do, and how they do it—all while aligning with your business strategy.

Developed by faculty at the University of Michigan, The Competing Values Frameworktm is used by Haworth’s workplace strategists to help companies identify their organizational cultures and create workplace design solutions to support them. It defines four main culture types that align with four main business goals:

  • Collaborate: Doing things together, with internal partnerships and team building, in a flexible, people-centered work environment.
  • Create: Doing things first, differentiating itself with a high degree of experimentation and individuality.
  • Control: Doing things right, through internal procedures, with a need for stability and control.
  • Compete: Doing things fast, through external competition, with a drive for results.

Do You Need to Make Some Changes?

Once you’ve determined your company’s main culture, compare it to where you want to be. According to a Haworth organizational culture white paper, it’s typical to discover differences between existing and desired culture. Knowing those differences, and understanding the four culture types, can help you make positive changes—in the right places—toward the right culture. This allows three things to take place:

1. You can enact change at the right pace, with as little upheaval and resistance as possible.
Once you understand the differences between where you are and where you want to go with your culture, you can determine a plan, which should include a well-thought-out timeline. If you institute drastic changes too rapidly, you run the risk of alienating your employees, as many people inherently resist change—at least to a certain degree. If you go too slowly without planning or monitoring, the cultural change you hope to make will start to become an unimportant afterthought within your organization. The key is to stay committed to the plan, its milestones, and its timeline.

2. You can identify and support any subcultures that may exist—or need to exist—in workgroups within the larger organization.
Professor Jeff DeGraff from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business says that the problem many leaders have is in believing that the same culture has to appear everywhere within an organization. But it should not be the same. For example, let’s say you identify your overall organizational culture as Create, focused on doing things first and differentiating your company from others. Not every workgroup’s activities will fall under that culture type. Think about it: would you really want your accounting or manufacturing department to use a Create culture? These groups use a lot of internal processes and procedures to focus on doing things to the letter. They likely work best under a Control culture. So, while your overall culture may be Create, keep in mind that different subcultures within your organization will also need to be supported.

3. You can create ideal working environments that support people, the work they do, and your organization’s goals.
This will be one of the most important parts of your cultural change. When employees see physical changes in their work environment, they can see tangible evidence of how committed you are to supporting your organizational culture. According to Haworth’s white paper on organizational culture, to engage employees, the working environment should motivate people, allowing them to innovate, collaborate, and work efficiently in their respective roles. The critical achievement of your workspace design will be to integrate various workspaces for the various subcultures, values, and behaviors of people into the overall environment to meet company goals. In this way, workspace can be used to leverage and change culture.

Any company can create a successful culture. But, it has to be the right culture for that organization. It also has to incorporate and support organizational subcultures. Get the ball rolling by determining which overall culture type is best for your company and comparing it to where you are now. Then, if needed, make a plan for change—and stick to it! It will take hard work and commitment, but the concept really is simple and doable. And the results can really pay off with increases in employee engagement, creativity, and innovation—as well as your bottom line.

For greater detail on building a healthy culture, read the Haworth white paper, How to Create a Successful Organizational Culture


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