Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Dealing with the conflict through a meaningful conversation is always preferable to letting it simmer, and to have that conversation be a success, it pays to prepare. We all prepare for these conversations in some way. Often times, not constructively. “When he brings up this point, I’ll bring up that one!,” we think, like George Costanza in Seinfeld and his famous jerk store line – planning out the moment when you’ll prove your coworker's point wrong with a witty repartee, solving the issue once and for all.
Your workplace culture may seem difficult to assess, but just like quarterly reports, recruiting numbers, and inbound requests, it can be measured and charted.
In the 2x2 below you’ll see culture measured on two axes. Strength, the x-axis, describes the intensity with which the culture pulls on individuals’ behavior. Positivity, the y-axis, indicates the degree to which people are pulled toward affirmative behaviors by the culture.
How strong is your workplace culture? Very strong? Is that a good thing? "Strong" is a word you’ll often hear championed in the workplace, and if you ask executives if they want different aspects of their company to be strong they’ll nod vigorously in response. But "strength" is a modifier: strong growth, strong quarterly reports; strong recruitment. You’ll get a more tepid response from executives when you mention strong competition, or strong staff turnover rates. So while you may want a strong culture, it’s just as important that it's a positive culture.
When evaluating your culture, you need to determine where it lies on two axes before you decide where you want to move it.
A positive culture can drive growth, increase retention, spur productivity and inspire creativity. A negative culture can lead to disillusionment, reduced engagement, and send good team members and promising talent heading for the exit. Here are three reasons to invest in building a positive culture for your company.
Culture change is difficult. Organizations, big or small, have many moving parts, and culture exists in each part of an organization. To succeed, it pays to have a plan, but before you plan, it's helpful to understand how culture takes hold. If you want to be an agent of culture change, keep these four guiding principles in mind.
Unless you are starting it from scratch, your company comes with its own culture already baked in. And that culture is sticky – it can seem intractable. In some instances this works to your favor, such as when good characteristics are there for good. But sticky culture presents challenges. If things like how people are treated, character traits that are, or are not, valued, or internal competition are negatively persistent, you could have a major culture challenge. You can and should work to change any negative aspects of culture, but it takes time, and long-lasting change is incremental. It pays to be patient. Recognize what needs to change for your organization to thrive, make a plan for how it will change, and be the biggest advocate you can for that plan. Enlist the support of others. Promote your plan in private discussions and public forums. And celebrate the small wins.
Negative feedback, passive aggressiveness, and a steady stream of departing employees are all symptoms of something rotten in a workplace culture. For otherwise thoughtful, productive people, a negative workplace culture causes stress, stifles productivity, and communicates that a long-term career in the company is not likely to be possible. When people start to leave the team and productivity starts to slump, acknowledging that something is wrong is an important first step. But then comes the hard part: what do about it.