We all want to work in an environment where we’re greeted with smiles, where it’s ok to admit that you don’t know what to do or that you made a mistake, where meetings are quick and only cover the necessary things and where you don’t feel obligated to sit at your desk or be seen to be busy just because.
What most businesses don’t realise is that the only thing stopping you, is you.
If you really want those things in your company and want the values that define it to be expressed through actions like these, then you first need to be aware of the conflicting narratives you’re telling yourself that lead to behaviours and actions working against you.
One of the biggest challenges companies face when it comes to corporate culture is making sure that the values remain consistent throughout a company. That means ensuring that the messages from the top are embodied not only in the Board of Directors but in middle managers and entry level employees too! To have a culture that lives by its values necessitates a leadership team that embody those values not only in what they say but in what they do. They then set an example for those beneath them and so on and so forth. This is the power of the messenger.
The thing to be aware of is that this can play out in one of two ways.
- You can set a positive example and watch it play out throughout the company.
- You show those below you that bad behaviour is acceptable through your actions (even if your words or company values are contradictory)
First let’s look at how being a good messenger can be used to set a good example for staff and create a healthy work culture:
- If you want your staff to be accessible, make sure that you too have an open door policy.
- If you want staff to take lunch breaks or leave at a reasonable hour, don’t sit at your desk with a sandwich or be the last one to leave.
- If you want to encourage activity in the office, chair standing or walking meetings so that staff know it’s ok to not be glued to their desks.
By setting an example, unwritten processes and behaviours become part of the culture of how staff are expected to act and the managers leading the way earn employee trust in the process. Mickey Mikitani’s company is a great example of this and shows how setting a good example can help overcome resistance to new initiatives and get your team not only open to but even enthusiastic about change.
So what happens when somebody goes rogue?
Well it actually happens a lot more than you think and in ways that are so easy to overlook.
For example, have you ever:
- taken office supplies home for personal use?
- gone for lunch with a friend and claimed it as a business expense?
- backed someone else into a corner to make yourself look better?
We often think of unethical behaviour in companies as only being important when it’s really big and really harmful to lots of people (think for example the banking libor scandal).
But how did they get to that point?
Well, there are a few reasons. One of the big ones is the values the company defines itself around (ie competition, excellence at all cost), another is the incentives to achieve those values and the third (and potentially most important) is that when people question whether it’s ok or if the conduct isn’t appropriate, they found someone else paving the way for them to go right ahead. In the same way that someone needs to dip their toes in the ocean before anyone else will come join, most unethical behaviour starts with one small, minor indiscretion by one person who then through words or actions, encourages others to follow.
For this reason, if ever we look back at big controversial issues from the past, there are always warning signs. Seriously unethical behaviour doesn’t just appear overnight, it develops over time as people become more comfortable with the potential risks and consequences of misbehaving and that bad behaviour becomes the cultural norm. This is why good leadership is so important because a leader’s unethical behaviour can set the tone for how everyone else thinks they should act and can create a harmful new social norm which can quickly transform a corporate culture.
So whether you want to troubleshoot bad behaviour or transform your culture for the better, take a look not just at your company’s values but at how your actions and those of your colleagues and employees match up to them.