Ask Our Boss: How Do You Create an Amazing Workplace Culture?

Alison Rice
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In our new monthly column dedicated to helping you succeed faster, our publisher Alison Rice is answering your most pressing career questions. You know, the stuff you really want to ask your boss but can’t. Have a question? Ask it on Instagram or Facebook by tagging #AskOurBoss.

How does a manager create an amazing workplace culture? Short answer is, we don’t. No single person, CEO, management team or otherwise, can create a workplace culture. Our role is to create a vision for the business—that rallying cry or call to action—and inspire our people to help us fulfill it. In our business we also have a set of guiding principles and valued behaviours but again, without our people connecting around them and holding each other accountable, it’s just words on a page. Culture is a feeling, don’t you think? It’s unity.  

It’s Everyone

Every employee is responsible for creating and maintaining a workplace’s culture. If you don’t care about your company’s culture or believe in the vision, or maybe there’s just no culture or it is super negative, you need to talk to your manager about it. And then sometimes, it is the manager’s doing. In that case, you really need to weigh up how important your time at the organisation is going to be in the long run. Don’t sacrifice your joy for a title or a role you think is too good to leave. There will be a place for you at an organisation that will value your contribution and that in itself will be more fulfilling than catching your email signature every now and then.

Culture Killers

A big challenge for most organisations—particularly those in a growth or change phase—is what I call the culture killers. The naysayers who wait for something to fail (and then say I told you so, how charming!), or tell you why something won’t work or what might go wrong. Or, they waste a lot of time and energy on gossip. Such a drain. They need to go. Gossip is probably, unfortunately, one of the major culture killers. For whatever reason, some people just like to throw shit at the fan and then watch it hit the wall. Those people are generally known to management and so anything they say will generally be the opposite of what is really going on. My advice would be to call them out. Speak up and ask them if they need help or support. If they tell you the culture is changing/broken/insert other dramatic word here, ask them how they’re going to contribute to fixing it.

If you know a culture killer, bring it to your manager’s attention. It isn’t dobbing because you’re not at school. It’s a business and every company needs to have the right people in the right roles in order to succeed. A manager generally gets the shiniest version of everyone, so we need more eyes and ears. Just remember when you raise it, outline the impact on that person’s negativity is having on the business not how they make you feel.

Temperature Check

A business will always succeed if it has a room full of believers. A room full of people that want to take risks and be there for each other if it fails. Imagine walking into a job you love each day, and sitting down with a group of people that inspire you to be greater, braver, and reach higher. It’s real and it’s not just at Google!

It’s not easy though, fostering that care and comfort around risk. There are periods—sometimes it’s only a few days, but other times it can be a month or two—where it’s a bit off. It’s like the fire goes out. It could be about staff turnover, a new direction, or even something small like a piece of office gossip that got a bit too much air time. Whatever it is, it’s a manager’s responsibility to keep reading the room and getting a temperature check.

It has been my personal experience that getting culture back on course often takes just listening. In order to be a successful manager and drive outcomes for the business, we need our teams to feel comfortable to air what’s bothering them. My only advice here is don’t download or make assumptions. You should trust your manager enough to say “Hey, I heard this thing and it feels a bit off so just wanted to flag it with you.” That’s what it means to take the high road. The alternative to that involves hallway whispering and toxic email chains or DMs. Don’t be that person, because we can see and hear and you look silly.

Show Up and Contribute

As a manager, I value and seek out staff who really show up and contribute to our culture each day. I’m a huge believer that we are responsible for the energy we bring to a room, so I’m always trying to elevate people who are consistent with bringing the good vibes. Those are the people you want representing a business or a team. They’re like these amazing inspiration chips, you can plug them in anywhere and they’ll charge up a meeting or team morale. It’s those pockets of excellence managers rely on when we need someone to take the reins for a moment, or to help us reinforce a message or goal.  

The great thing about these inspiration chips is you can never have too many. We can all be one. Trust me when I say it’ll be the most rewarding work you’ll do because it is greater than you.

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