Striving to Improve Culture, Not Morale.

The over abundant appearance of overworked and under appreciate employees, is currently being attributed to low morale. A lot of times, this in turn, is attributed to the recent economic downfall which organizations are still recovering from. Though this holds some truth, I believe that the shift in focus to being a result driven economy, created out of necessity in order survive this downturn, has created something much more harmful then low morale, bad culture.

Culture is an undisputed acceptance of particular actions, beliefs, and/or customs as correct or socially appropriate within a specified group of individuals.

Culture is, at its core, responsible for how successful projects, products, and people are within a society; or in this case specifically, an organization. That being said, being able to provide leadership with the intent of improving upon culture within an organization, can only help to increase morale, thusly increasing energy and productivity and cutting operational costs, making your organization more efficient, and in the end successful.

Not that I should have to explain, but poor morale can lead to budget busting employee turn around. If you are not in a hiring or operational position within your organization, you may not know how much it costs to advertise, hire, train, etc…a new hire, especially when talking about entry level positions. Not only that, but the level of absentee employees will rise in a low morale situation, causing operational inefficiencies, which are also costing the organization more money.  I could, but I needn’t go on; the connections here are clear.

Obviously, low morale can be caused by a negative organizational culture; but can a morale problem also ruin a good culture? Absolutely. I know this because Credit Unions have all the reason in the world to have GREAT culture, but from experience, not all of them do.

While morale is declining, negative thoughts become associated with work, going to work, and inevitably, your organization. Negativity becomes the norm in this situation, and if one influential person, or a person in a leadership position, takes this stance on their work environment, a virus of epidemic proportions substantiates and will inevitably spread from employee to employee before eventually becoming an organizational norm. With negativity being accepted as normal and correct because or your organizations low morale situation, a horrible culture emerges.

Luckily, culture is primarily a pattern of learned behaviors, as we can see from the example above, and can be changed to reflect your organization’s true vision and potential.

It is important here that I stress and address the fact that attempting to increase only morale while ignoring culture will never provide a lasting effect for a workplace drowning in cultural disparity. The cause of low morale is poor culture. If you do not solve a problem at its core, the root of the issue will still exist, continue to grow, and will rear its ugly head in due time. As I stated, morale is a problem with the view of, and operations of an organization, but a culture problem is a repeated and normal issue that is inherently associated with an organization.

As the word culture starts with a C, I find it charming to use that letter as a jumping off point to convey the three things I believe create good culture. Without further ado, here are my three C’s of good culture.

Confidence – Everyone needs to be told that they are doing a good job. Without feeling appreciated, and in turn confident about their performance, no employee will ever feel pride in their work or motivation to over achieve. Simply letting someone know you appreciate what they do, goes a long way in creating a positive experience in the work place. I am not insinuating that anyone needs to be rewarded for adhering to their job description, but conveying to someone that you’re grateful for their help will always improve an employee’s view on their work and their job. Just say thank you.

Communication – I have never worked anywhere that did not lack in this seemingly simple department. Over communication has been often seen as overstepping imaginary cultural workplace boundaries. Communication done in an appropriate manner will always help, and never hinder, a workplace culture. Communicating issues with an appropriate superior will help get issues resolved while avoiding “insubordination” and help to eliminate harmful organization slander between employees. In turn communicating in a way that makes the members of your organization feel connected is just as important. An interoffice newsletter with the achievements of departments otherwise taken for granted, will help connect (hey another C word!) and bond employees.  Helping employees to feel as though all of their co-workers, no matter how small their interactions with each other, are a necessary part of their workplace lives and success, will increase culture exponentially.

Conveyance – Culture will always start at the top. Without the dedicated leaders in place to convey and live the culture your organization strives to encompass, there will be no change. A lot of the time, a leader is looked at as someone who knows the most. Being knowledgeable is a trait of leader, but does not make you fit to lead. To make a good culture a permanent part of your organization, you need leaders who are willing to create more leaders. This seems contradictory to success as leader, creating someone who could succeed you, but it’s not. If the CEO or an organization trains their President to lead in a way that is beneficial in promoting a positive culture, and in turn the President leads their VPs to lead in a way that successfully corresponds to their cultural vision, and this pattern continues to trickle down, all staff is leading, and being led by, leaders of a greater vision. If the staff in your leadership positions are afraid to create more leaders, what is left other than employees who feel like peons, slave to a corporate vision they are not a part of?

When I talk about leadership, I want to clarify that I deem a leader as someone with a specific dominant yet compassionate personality, and skills to rise above and prosper in the face of adversity. With that in mind, don’t you want all of your employees to be leaders?

Improving upon culture is a long a teadious process. However, no process can be completed without the effort to initiate change. This is where morale is addressed rather than culture. Addressing as issue only once will boost morale temporarily, but finding a permanent solution which improves morale consistently, will lead to improved culture. Without addressing culture, the blind will continue to lead the blind into an irreversible spiral of punch in punch out mentality. If your staff has no passion linked to their day to day ventures, how will your Credit Union ever hope to convey the passion it has to help its members?

I leave you with this quote, because if you can’t trust a peon, you can surely trust a man with a 170 IQ.

“We must not conceal from ourselves that no improvement in the present depressing situation is possible without a severe struggle; for the handful of those who are really determined to do something is minute in comparison with the mass of the lukewarm and the misguided.” – Albert Einstein

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