Talk of an organisation’s culture is often dismissed as HR “fluff”, but according to authors Emily Jaksch and Sarah Gibbins, culture not only has an impact on a business, it defines it.In their book What is HR?, the authors, both seasoned HR professionals, define culture as: “the behaviour, attitude, beliefs, values, and work ethics of your people”, and “accepted practices at your place of business”.”It is the way people speak to each other, the way they act, the way they do their jobs, the way they interact with your customers.


“If you have a negative culture (or a confused one), you will not have a sustainable, successful business,” they warn.

Conduct a “culture audit”

Jaksch and Gibbins encourage HR professionals to conduct a “culture audit” of their organisation to determine what it is actually like to work there and whether improvement is needed.

Questions to consider include:

  • Do you find it easy to recruit great people into your business?
  • Do you know why people have left your company in the past 12 months? Have you done anything to address this?
  • Do you often get customer compliments?
  • Do your people know what your customers are saying about the business?
  • When you walk around your business, are people laughing and enjoying themselves?
  • Do your people happily come to work earlier than expected or work later (without you asking them)?
  • Do you have a Christmas party and do most people attend?
  • Do your employees have friendships with each other outside of work?
  • Do you know anything about your employees outside their ‘work life’?
  • Do you/your managers have regular meetings with your employees? In the past six months, have you had an ‘all-in’ company meeting or communication?
  • Do you communicate all changes in your business to all of your employees?
  • Do your people ask for help if there is an issue with their work or the workplace?
  • Do you have an ‘open-door’ policy? (And do people come into your office to ask questions?)
  • Do your managers ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to policy and process?
  • Do your people work outside of the scope of their role without you asking them to?

According to Jaksch and Gibbins, the greater the number of “yes” responses, the better the organisation’s culture.

The authors’ simple advice on creating a more positive culture is to:

  1. Set the boundaries of behaviour;
  2. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! and
  3. Have fun.
Set the boundaries

In the long run, business goals, mission statements and values, combined with policies, help employers to define acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and practices, to attract the business they want, and be the business that they want to be, Jaksch and Gibbins say.

“If you think ‘policies’ means too many restrictions on your business, you have had the wrong people writing them,” they add.

“We believe in flexible policies that provide guidelines to what is acceptable, but we don’t believe in the ‘policy police’ carrying big sticks.

“Success comes from being able to roll with the punches – and being fast and flexible.”

In addition to addressing behaviour that transgresses an organisation’s boundaries, employers should reward employees who align to the culture and behaviour they want to set, they say.

Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

“Communication is the single most effective way for you to involve your people and make them love working for you,” say Jaksch and Gibbins.

“We don’t just mean telling them about your policies, mission, and values. Although that is key, it’s just one part of communication. What we mean is talking to your people, but also asking them questions and listening to the answers.

“You should be constantly talking to your people – telling them what is happening and why, so that they feel informed and secure in their jobs. As soon as you start keeping secrets, gossip and incorrect messages start spreading throughout your business. These two factors can be poison for a positive, healthy workplace culture.”

It’s also important to keep asking workers for feedback and ideas. “Not only does it give you more information to improve your business, but it also shows your people that you actually value them, and want them to contribute to the business’s success.

“This is a crucial element – people spend most of their lives at work, so they want to enjoy it, and feel like they are part of the bigger picture. They want to feel like they are contributing to something worthwhile.”

Have fun

“If people love what they do, they will work harder, longer, and better – without fuss,” Jaksch and Gibbins say.

“Of course, people are paid to do a job, so we are not saying it should be a playground. You set the boundaries… but it’s important to have balance.

“Friday lunches, or a laugh around the water cooler, are good things to encourage. If people feel relaxed and happy, they will work harder for you.”

As published in HR Daily website on 26/04/2012.

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