How to create a positive workplace culture

Organisations promoting a supportive, open workplace culture are more likely to have better employee engagement and retention, as well as higher profits.

Every business owner likes to think they’re fostering a great work environment, but sometimes this is a case of over-optimistic thinking.

If you have problems finding the right talent or you have a high turnover rate, these are signs you have a problem with your workplace culture. Addressing this aspect of business management should be handled early and revisited regularly for best results.

What is workplace culture?

Workplace culture, like culture in general, is a collection of rules, customs and social behaviours unique to that group of people.

This can include values, expectations and practices that are often unspoken, and describes the ways in which people within that organisation interact with one another.

But don’t stop at the list of employees; the way people within your business interact with those outside of the business are also worth including as a key part of your workplace culture.

While everything else in your business, from your processes to your skillset, can be replicated, your culture is as truly unique as the community of people living it on the daily.

Why promote a positive workplace culture?

In a healthy, supportive culture, team members are motivated, inspired and positive about coming to work.

In a toxic, overly competitive or bullying culture, those same people can become demotivated, unhappy and unproductive.

In this way, culture becomes self-perpetuating; a healthy culture fosters positivity, which feeds back into the culture.

Studies have shown a workplace culture that’s perceived to be more positive and supportive delivers multiple benefits, including:

So a good culture delivers better profits, employee engagement, easier recruitment and better retention. It can be a key difference between a market leader and a business that struggles to keep up. But changing a culture can be very difficult.

If you suspect that your culture could be holding your business back or needs a tune-up, here’s how to change it.

How to affect change in your workplace culture

1. Attempt to describe your culture as it exists

Every single person in an organisation will have a different opinion of what the workplace culture is and isn’t – a challenge for anyone seeking stakeholder buy-in who might end up inundated by qualitative feedback.

Another approach would be really to home in on a model for discussing workplace culture in a simple way, which can then be used to tease out insights and actions.

For example, a 2018 article from Harvard Business Review defines the following eight distinct culture styles:

  • Caring – relationships and mutual trust

  • Purpose – idealism and altruism

  • Learning – exploration and creativity

  • Enjoyment – fun and excitement

  • Results – achievement and winning

  • Authority – decisiveness and boldness

  • Safety – caution and preparedness

  • Order – respect, structure and shared norms

None of these styles is inherently negative or positive, but each has its pros and cons, and when combined with others may exacerbate certain outcomes.

For example, a workplace culture that’s built around caring and order will have a lack of conflict and low staff turnover, but may tend towards consensus-based decisions and stifled innovation.

If this model of discussing workplace culture works for you, or you can easily adapt it to fit, then you can more easily start to assess how your cultural style is manifesting itself.

Next, you’ll be able to ask reflective questions, such as ‘What are the key things that define our organisation’s culture as it exists, both good and bad?’, ‘Are there any clear examples of outcomes that can be attributed to workplace culture?’ and ‘What are the possible factors contributing to that culture?’.

2. Highlight key areas to work on

Once you’ve made a thorough assessment of your workplace culture as it stands, enact strategies with clear goals in mind, and which are all consistent in their application of your organisational values.

According to HBR, in a caring/order organisation, the injection of a learning spirit may make all the difference. On the other hand, an authority/safety culture might find a bit of fun means more to them.
Whatever your particular case may be, you’ll want to take an open approach to strategy and planning to ensure transparency where it’s most needed.

After all, you won’t be able to affect cultural change by acting as an outsider, so make sure you’re working from a position of broad support to maintain momentum.

3. Get started, get social

Sometimes the first conversation is the hardest part of enacting an
entire strategy, especially if it requires a level of reflection and transparency beyond the current practice.

If you’re serious about making improvements to the way your organisation handles workplace culture, then there are a few personal habits you should take on.

6 healthy habits for promoting a positive workplace culture

1. You’ve got to be in it to win it

Dedication to the cause should be a personal motivator as well as a broad cultural trait in a positive workplace.

We may sign onto a job with expectations that change over time, or we might start a business that goes off on an unexpected direction, but we still need to be able to maintain our engagement with that work in order to be productive.

What gets people out of bed in the morning are important things to embrace as a foundational part of your workplace culture.

2. Lead by example

If you’re going to promote positive change in an organisation, you need to be able to demonstrate and model those changes as a surefire path to getting everyone on board.

If you’ve a clear idea of the key areas to address in the current workplace culture, have you considered how you and your leadership team may be currently adding to or alleviating them? You may not need to implement a full-blown change management process if a few considered actions can be taken on a personal level.

3. Write everything down

Taking notes won’t bring about a cultural change overnight, but putting your intentions to paper will send a message to your team that this is the new way of doing things.

Do you regularly review and update your values, goals or other guiding principles? How are these currently being communicated and is the organisation measured against them in some way?

If ‘what gets measured gets done’, the first step to getting anything done is to record what it is in the first place. So even if you don’t know exactly how to measure something 100 percent accurately (and when it comes to workplace culture, this may often be the case), you can at least begin to discuss the strategy and some rough benchmarks to begin with.

4. Find comfort beyond the comfort zone

Depending on the depth of change required, cultural change can mean people no longer find their fit within the organisation. This is an unavoidable fact that, when handled well, doesn’t lead to animosity or ill-will.

And even when cultural change doesn’t entail changing roles and resources, it will almost certainly require some challenge conversations on a regular basis.

In either case, when seeking cultural changes, make sure you’re comfortable in pushing yourself and others outside of the comfort zone when it comes to transparency and open discourse.

5. Hire for culture first

If you’re hiring, skills and experience matter, but not as much as cultural fit.

While skills and experience can be gained, behaviour or personality can be difficult to shape, and if that makes a person less equipped to succeed in your organisation, then you’ll want to identify it early on.

Selecting for cultural fit at the hiring stage can make the difference between a high-performing, longstanding employee and one that quits after a short, unimpressive tenure.

6. Champion everyday cultural exemplars

Take note of the people or groups who are living the best parts of your culture and seek ways to appropriately recognise them for it.

By consistently holding up exemplars of your winning workplace culture, you’ll further reinforce support in it, delivering further engagement dividends.

Recognition and rewards are a tricky area of workplace management to get right in any organisation, but if you create fair systems that offer real value to the people doing the best work in the best possible way, then you have an ideal vehicle for the promotion of a healthy workplace culture.

Don’t let negative workplace culture undermine your business

Left unexamined and unspoken, workplace culture can undermine your best efforts to hire, upskill and modernise your business.

To aim for a workplace culture that delivers positive, motivated staff, a competitive edge and better profits, you have to start from the top. With your management leading the way, identify what a successful culture looks like for your business and what must change to reach that ideal.

Write down your intention, hire for cultural fit first, don’t worry if some people are uncomfortable with the changes and be sure to praise those who are taking your new measures on board.

Gradually you’ll see better staff retention and productivity as positive culture feeds back into your business.

Want more information on developing your business for success? Call us on (08) 8331 8688.

Source: MYOB August 2021

Reproduced with the permission of MYOB. This article by Felicty Brown was originally published at

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