Organizational Culture Overhaul in 5 Steps

Inclusivity means not "just we’re allowed to be there," but we are valued. I’ve always said: smart teams will do amazing things, but truly diverse teams will do impossible things. ~Claudia Brind-Woody

As the Black Lives Matter movement gains more widespread traction, the focus on diversity and inclusion has taken on new dimensions for workplaces. Critical conversations within organizations are revealing an undercurrent of toxicity that, while unintentional, has deeply impacted the experience and morale of team members.

"But Julia, organizational culture is one of those things that just evolves organically... right?"

Not at all. Culture in the workplace has to be as intentional and prioritized as your business strategy or your core service/product offering. If you want a workforce that's upwardly mobile and "comfortably in control," you need to view your culture as a key business driver. Here’s how you can do that:

1. Encourage your team to socially connect at work
Positive social connections at work result in less mental and physical illness, faster learning, and better performance on the job. Some basic approaches to improving the social dynamics in your workplace include:

  • volunteering to help others
  • hosting end-of-week drinks
  • regularly eating lunch as a team
  • celebrating milestones

Socially connecting also helps humanize team members. That may sound silly, but it's very easy for people to silo their colleagues into a role or a task. This is especially prevalent when that colleague shares less in common due to race, religion, sexuality, or economic status.  Consequently, those individuals end up feeling isolated. By creating common experiences, you've created a connection point for sharing.

BONUS POINTS: Allow these social activities to serve two purposes by allowing members from diverse backgrounds to share an activity that revolves around their culture. 

2. Communicate regularly
Secrecy and rumors may work for Apple, but for the rest of the world, it creates dysfunction and distrust. It can be illuminating and highly motivating for employees to know what's going on in all areas of the business. Leaders need to set the standard by sharing what's on their mind on a regular basis - an organizational "town hall" or end-of-month update will do the trick. Team leaders should be encouraged to facilitate discussion about the organization in smaller groups.

For example, any organization that hasn't provided a forum to discuss racial inequality and social justice in the current climate has missed a pivotal opportunity. It leaves the team wondering -- where does the organization stand? Is leadership willing to listen to employees? Does anybody care about my pain? My team members say hurtful things, where do I turn?

These are not always easy to implement, and a facilitator may be needed to set a framework or "rules of engagement" for these forums.

3. Be clear about the vision and values 
Ask your team if they can explain the organization's vision and values. Many leaders are surprised by how many can't articulate them clearly. Take the time to communicate the vision and values clearly in a forum that encourages questions and conversation. Ask honest questions on a regular basis about whether the organization is living its vision and values in practice.  These are not just feel-good catchphrases, these are the framework for your organization's identity. If your organization feels hostile or less welcoming to certain groups, it's a good idea to start here. 

4. Be human
Expressing empathy can go a long way toward changing the organizational culture. Just recently, I attended a demonstration and march for social justice, and a woman  next to me held a sign that said, "I don't understand, but I stand with you." The immense humility in that statement spoke volumes. It said, "your experience is one I can't fully relate to, but I'm listening to understand and not defend." It feels good to work with people and for people who we care about and who care about us. Lead by example—spend time asking your team questions and actually listen to their answers. 

5. Hire the right mix of personalities
All organizations need talented employees. However, many hiring managers dismiss the benefits of diverse perspectives and focus purely on skill. This isn't to say one has to sacrifice or pursue less talented individuals, but instead, expand the definition of talent. 

By implementing these steps to overhaul your organizational culture you are not only building a better environment for your workforce, but you are also paving the path to innovation and high performance.  The richness of an organization is enhanced by arranging a breadth of experiences that both challenge and amplify the culture. 


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