No, this isn’t an article about the rise of automation, though that could very well play a role. Rather, it’s about culture and the way that businesses treat people. Many businesses have stated core values, but it’s a different matter to live those values in every operational facet—something that savvy business leaders have picked up on.
“Culture” is a term bandied about regarding the general attitude adopted by employees of a company. There are many articles on the subject, and while it’s certainly possible for a business to cultivate a certain culture, it is ultimately determined by its employees. Regardless, it’s easy to recognize a good culture—one can feel it in every motivated team, every push to get a project done. It’s a feeling of belonging and knowledge that an employee is doing meaningful work. Conversely, the apathy and toxicity of a soured culture can be felt just the same. These are companies where communication stagnates, tyrannical leaders reign, and operations suffer as a result.
It’s easy for a leader to promote themselves as a champion of culture but far more difficult for them to spread those values throughout an organization. After all, they are merely one person; rewriting the company’s mission is just window-dressing for a culture that may or may not exist. More important is that employees at large feel comfortable promoting these values themselves and working to foster a supportive environment.
Even so, culture is not inherently positive or negative. A company that promotes nonstop work with little interpersonal collaboration could be said to have a strong culture. Perhaps this approach could even appeal to those that wish to strive to succeed. The trick for businesses is to solicit feedback from team members and use that to inform cultural principles going forward.
And receiving feedback is tough, both from those that loathe to give it and those that are brutally honest about it. Still, this isn’t the time for business leaders to shy away from a few bad reviews. Rather, they should embrace negative feedback and involve dissidents in building something that addresses their concerns. Encourage them to suggest ways to offset negative aspects of the company and promote practices that they feel would be beneficial.
Indeed, implementing any new cultural practice should be done with the assistance of team members. Proposals should be actionable, specific, and supported by the majority of employees. Criteria for a “good” proposal includes any practice that benefits people, that is supported at all levels of the business, and that employees find value in.
And the consequences of a poorly-executed cultural plan are dire. Once trust among employees is lost, there’s little chance of regaining it. If the culture doesn’t value the individual, any efforts to create a human-centric business often feel token and hollow.
It sounds grim, but it’s not too late for many companies! Though it falls to business leaders to make the initial push toward good culture, every employee must live it and propagate it as the company grows.