Create a culture that is true to your values

Grace has nestled up in a comforter I took off the bed while changing the sheets. She

This past summer when I attended Suzanne Clothier’s workshop on fearful dogs, I had asked her how to curb Grace’s insistence to bark at any moving thing by our house. A car, person, animal, sometimes even a blowing twig, will incite Grace into thinking she had to protect us all with her sharp bark.

In order to change the habit, Suzanne suggested that I eliminate the stimulus. One way was to keep Grace out of the room so she wasn’t aware of the movement outdoors. Another was to put large pieces of cardboard in the window to block her view.

I didn’t say a thing but the look on my face must have given me away. In her wry and extraordinarily perceptive way, she smiled and said something like, “I’m guessing that’s not an option. I think you are a little more particular about those kinds of things in your house than I am.” It was yet one more thing I admired about Suzanne – she understood the entire situation and then re-grouped to make it work for those most involved.

You could say that Suzanne had been able to identify the culture of our home without even entering it. And she was wise enough to understand the significance of culture to the outcomes she was trying to accomplish. The perfect solution for a problem in one home may not be ideal in another.

Cultures in homes and organizations are always unique. And they should be. It’s more than just the physical space, but that’s certainly part of it. Suzanne was able to accurately project physical characteristics of my home just from her observations of our short time together. Think about all the other assumptions we can make from our work interactions.

There is no doubt that organizational cultures impact the performance of employees. If we want to change the attitude, mindset, excitement, loyalty, and productivity of our employees, we need to look at the culture.

I attended a worthwhile presentation Wednesday morning at our local Peterborough [NH] Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. Jon Plodzik, Director of Dining at the University of New Hampshire talked about “Creating a Workplace Culture.”

I wondered what secrets a food services director would have on the topic. I left inspired and energized about how essential workplace cultures are towards not only employee satisfaction, but organizational profitability. It wasn’t a new message, but it was a critical one. It is so clear that we cannot ignore the environment that we work in.

Jon made us laugh with his engaging and entertaining presentation style, but his message was important. Everyone in the organization is responsible for building culture, whether you are intentional about it or not. Everything you say, do, and think creates the culture. Years ago, I heard something similar, that an organization’s culture is reflected by how people act when they think no one is watching them.

Are you grumpy when you walk in the door? Do you take time to spend with those when they need it? Or are you rushed and tell them you’ll get back to them and never do? Are you fair in how you handle employee requests? Are you generous with your feedback? Are you willing to receive feedback? Or only give it? Are you open to trying new ideas presented by others? Do you take risks? Do you take action to make your customers satisfied? Do all of your actions accurately reflect what you ask others to do?

Customers understand your culture just by how employees interact with them. They don’t have to enter a physical building to get the picture. And employees can absolutely tell you about the culture of their organization—rather quickly—even if it’s not printed up in an orientation manual.

It’s a bit hard to see in this picture, but Oliver is literally hanging from the window trying to get a better view of the birds eating at the feeder. In our home, the animals have a lot of leeway, but have not completely taken over. We love having animals be a part of our home with some parameters. (I know, hanging from the windows is probably a little extreme.) Creating a culture that matches what is important to you is the key.

Our home would not be selected for any exquisite house tour, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine working in a room with cardboard up against the windows. I could consider another option, like coordinated mini-blinds, but I would hate to block the light. The look and the function both weigh in for me.

Grace might be less stressed in a room with cardboard against the windows but it’s not part of the look here. We have to find ways to get around the issue that matches our desired culture. While she could care less about how things look, Pete and I do.

There are lots of ways to build the right culture. Jon said that the key to having a successful culture is to make sure it matches your values.

Take notice of the kind of culture you are building. Is the one you want?

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9 comments

  1. LeeAnn says:

    Love the pictures, Robin! Grace does look a little guilty and I am impressed with Oliver’s athleticism! It is interesting to me how the culture in our home has changed as the inhabitants (animal and human) have aged together. WIth our two old ladies (Gracie and Oprah), we don’t have a lot of boundaries and it seems to work for everyone.

    • Thanks, LeeAnn! Oliver is a just wee little thing at seven pounds and he sure is nimble (and adorable). He hung there for a quite a while, with (13 lb) brother, Dodger, watching in envy! I’m sure Gracie and Oprah have a very nice environment that suits them well. When we have other dogs and/or children visit our house, it makes me realize how calm our house is, which helps Grace’s nervous personality rather than a house with constant motion and activity. I see the same thing in workplaces where some managers create a lot of chaos by adding new projects without regard to what everyone already has on their plate. The projects are often worthy, but just aren’t realistic without better planning. Gosh, I guess your comment got me on a roll! 🙂

  2. This is so funny to read now because we are in the process of replacing the clear glass in our front door and side panels to an obscure glass because Daisy goes nuts every time she sees something pass by! I work at home and it’s a little disruptive for me to be on a conference call with her whining and barking in the background just because she can see the neighbor’s dog in the yard across the street! It is very important to understand culture and, being someone who has been involved in the hiring process at the companies I’ve served, I see culture clashes occur when a new employee starts and is trying to change the world, and steps on the toes of the company culture in the process. Change is good, but culture is sacred. So if you want to change something, you have to change it in a way that is respectful to and supportive of the culture. And if you find yourself trying to change the culture, it’s probably a good sign you are in the wrong place.

    • That is so funny about you replacing the clear glass. What a fantastic idea! You have described the exact scenario here, that it is very disruptive to be on a client call and have Grace barking up a storm in the same room! I would love to hear how the obscure glass works for you. And I absolutely love your comment about if you find yourself trying to change the culture, it’s a sign you are in the wrong place. Culture is so ingrained that it can be impossible to shift, especially if you feeling alone in your efforts. I could see where top leadership might have a chance in a smaller organization, but even then, as you have noted, tremendously difficult.

  3. Kas says:

    Great post!! I like how you adapted the environment to set Gracie up for success — many people don’t realize that environment plays such a huge part in behavior modification.

  4. David Patterson says:

    Robin… love the photograph of Oliver doing what he needs to do to get a peek at the birds. Oh yes… Grace is a beauty!

  5. spiderpaw says:

    Love this post Robin, and let me just say that I can relate to building a culture in our house that both animals and people can exist in. With our Sia, she is exactly like Grace and it can be hard to keep her from barking at anything she sees or hears in or out the house.

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