Corporate Culture: A Manager’s Best Tool to Solve Employee Problems

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

What positions a business to win in the marketplace? Exceptional leadership, along with competitive products and services, are part of the equation. But a company’s workforce is the engine that powers it along and has the potential to propel it to the top.

The best human traits, such as pride in workmanship, enthusiasm, and cooperation, can maximize that engine’s performance. But negative behaviors can slow it down or even cause it to malfunction.

A company’s managers have the role of mechanics who keep the engine operating as smoothly as possible. In addition to their other job duties, they’re charged with bringing out the best in their people and helping them avoid or overcome traits that can hinder organizational success.

But people are people. Regardless of the effort managers make, employee problems surface every day, and solving them can be a daunting task.

Some issues that managers regularly deal with are:

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Sluggish Performance
  • Ego trips
  • Poor Communication
  • Disengagement

Supervising employees is a challenging responsibility even in a steady environment. It can seem insurmountable in a workplace rife with personality issues. Some managers feel like all they do is put out fires, and they’re racing between hotspots with a leaky bucket.

With everything else they have to do, how are managers supposed to continually deal with people who can’t seem to work cohesively?

It’s a concern we regularly hear about at CultureWise. Business leaders want to know what they can do to help their managers wrangle the different personalities in their workforce into a unified team.

While certain people may not be a good fit at a company, the problem isn’t necessarily with individuals. It’s more likely that the company lacks a strong corporate culture that gives management and staff the direction and tools to maintain a high-functioning work environment.

You may have heard it said that “a company is only as good as its people.” This is only partly true because the same people will perform differently in different environments, or cultures.  That’s why CultureWise founder David Friedman offers a different spin on this quote.  He says that “a company is only as good as its people perform.” Creating the right culture will help your team to perform at the highest level.

Your Company Culture Needs a Tune-Up

Every workplace has a culture, whether it was intentionally set up or not. Your company’s culture isn’t the perks you’ve installed to attract and keep good people. And it’s not the values you have framed on the walls or displayed on your website.

Your corporate culture consists of the actions and attitudes that you see in your people every day. The quality of those behaviors determines how successfully your company operates. Without guidance, your company’s culture can slip into a dysfunctional mode that’s stressful for everyone and nearly impossible for managers to cope with.

If your management team is struggling to keep your workforce functioning at the level needed to make your company succeed, the best remedy is a culture initiative.

You may be thinking that a culture project sounds like a lot of work, and you don’t want to add anything else to your managers’ load.

It’s true that a good culture program requires an investment of some time and effort for it to be effective. But it will take a lot less out of your managers than continuing to respond to crisis after crisis that drain the energy out of everyone involved.

Once implemented, a culture program will make everyone’s job easier.

How Does a Culture Program Help My Managers?

A culture initiative will provide the underpinning your managers need to transform a good group of people who are functioning adequately into a great team that excels on every level.

To have the most impact, the program should include three important components to help managers model and teach the behaviors that will galvanize your workforce.

  • A common language
  • Educational tools
  • Rituals to build habits
A Common Language

If you’ve traveled to another country and aren’t familiar with the local dialect, you know that communication can be spotty. The language barrier is compounded by differing cultural perspectives that skew how people understand what they hear.  

The same thing is true in a company when people aren’t thinking or talking about things in the same way. They may have different ideas about how to describe, define, or relate to specific situations. That usually means a manager has to spend time sorting things out to get everyone on the same page.

The best culture initiatives provide a universal vocabulary for a workforce.

They help leaders define the behaviors they want their company culture to reflect and then describe them in clear terms that everyone can understand. Managers can then use this common language to provide a solid understanding of expectations and offer team members a universal way to discuss them.

A common language saves time, diffuses misunderstandings, and helps to unify a team—three top goals for management.

Educational Tools

Once established, a common language needs to be used tactically. A strategic culture initiative should include a variety of educational tools that managers can use to teach employees about company standards.

The toolkit might offer aids like a core curriculum, a coaching guide fleshed out with teaching tips, group discussion starters, and talking points for one-on-one sessions. It could include templates for regular messaging from company leaders and a method for acknowledgment. It might even have a system for team members to interact regularly with management and each other about culture-related topics.

The advantage of using a standard set of teaching tools is that every manager will deliver the same message in the same way. People have no idea how to respond when they hear one thing from their team leader and something completely different from their department head.  

A shared toolkit eliminates training discrepancies that can confuse employees.

It helps managers get their people focused on the goal: working more effectively with each other.  

Rituals

Think about the things you do daily without giving them much thought. You probably brush your teeth, follow an exercise routine, and do chores the same way because they’re second nature to you. They became ritualized behaviors that are effective for the outcomes you want to achieve.

The same thing can happen in the workplace. When employees are encouraged to practice behaviors through rituals, the behaviors become habits. The method works. There are many examples of great companies that use rituals to engage and mobilize their workforces.  

After a culture initiative gives managers the language and tools to teach behaviors that will enhance their team, rituals will reinforce those behaviors over time. A comprehensive culture initiative will include routine activities that managers can set up or blend into existing protocols to promote better outcomes.

Using Culture to Solve Problems   

Managers can eliminate or improve employee issues like those listed at the beginning of this article by leveraging the components built into a great culture initiative. Here’s how.

Conflict Resolution

There’s no getting around the fact that human beings don’t always get along. When a thorny situation arises between two people or groups, the way it’s managed is critical to the team’s ability to operate effectively.

A knee-jerk “put out the fire” approach to conflict resolution may allow a long-standing feud to keep simmering. But an effective response can help the parties bridge into a newly strengthened relationship.

A strong culture gives managers the framework to effectively deal with conflicts. When people disagree, managers can immediately use the culture-based language to steer everyone to common ground. They can employ tools designed to inspire open, respectful communication that helps people see different viewpoints. 

Because they have an effective template to follow, managers don’t waste time trying to figure out how to resolve differences between people. The culture initiative enables them to downplay the drama and engineer successful outcomes faster.

Sluggish Performance

Everyone has days where it’s hard to be 100% energized. It becomes a problem when ho-hum behavior starts to be a pattern. And when one person regularly has this attitude, their behavior can be contagious.

It’s not that people want to underperform. It’s just that without a lot of self-discipline, “doing just enough” is an easy habit to slip into. As David Friedman explains:

“Most of us want to be great. But without an appropriate structure in place, most people won’t have the motivation and/or discipline to do what’s necessary on a consistent enough basis. We start off with lots of determination, but eventually, we sink back to doing what we always do.”

That’s where the habits formed through rituals come in. When managers have the tools to help their teams build strong habits, people are less likely to fall into a slump. They no longer require extraordinary personal discipline because rituals make approaching their job with purpose and enthusiasm an ingrained behavior.  

Ego Trips

A strong ego is a healthy part of human development. Employees who believe in their abilities and their value help make an organization successful. But we all know that egos can get out of hand, and progress suffers when they do.

Managers supported by a solid, operational culture have resources to address issues that spring from swollen egos. As outlined in Friedman’s book Fundamentally Different, they’re better able to help their staff:

  • Evaluate ideas on their merit rather than whose idea it was
  • Seek honest feedback
  • Learn to ask for help instead of being a martyr
  • Be able to admit mistakes and change direction
  • Make decisions that are best for the team
  • Be willing to play whatever role is necessary for tea success

The culture helps managers teach their team that “checking their ego at the door” isn’t about denying strengths or false modesty. It’s about making decisions for the good of the organization.

Poor Communication

Broken communication chains are a common headache for managers. They can stem from a rapid-paced work environment, teams holed up in their own “silos,” or simply poor listening skills. Maintaining an effective communication flow is even harder for managers dealing with a fully or partially remote workforce.

Without the support of a good organizational culture, managers can spend an enormous amount of time translating messages between groups or correcting misinterpreted information. It’s exasperating to have to stop and unravel snarled communications while they’re trying to maintain steady productivity.

Managers can win the communication battle with a culture initiative that introduces a common language and employs tools and rituals that reinforce teamwork. When managers coach their people to use a universal vocabulary to discuss the many moving parts of an operation, communication misfires become infrequent.

Managers can also lean on strong cultural messaging that explains how collaboration and teamwork drive individual as well as organizational success. It helps them shine a light on the positives gained by good communication and can extinguish the inclination to hole up in personal or departmental silos.

Disengagement

One of the biggest problems managers face is when employees lose interest in their jobs or don’t feel particularly connected to their company. Disengagement not only affects workplace productivity, it can also result in a serious retention problem.

Managers with disengaged workers find it hard to boost morale. And when people leave, they’re forced to spend excessive time onboarding and training replacements.

A strong company culture is the glue that holds teams together. Managers can rely on the values brought to life in the behaviors outlined in the culture program. When everyone uses the same language and rituals to reinforce team-strengthening behaviors, people feel like they’re pulling in the same direction. They’re more likely to be engaged and be proud of where they work.

A strong culture helps managers cultivate a loyal and connected team.

Culture: A Support System for Management

When a business leader commits to intentionally working on organizational culture, everyone in the company is positively impacted—and this may be especially true for managers.

We’ve shown how a high performing culture equips managers with the means to unify their teams and work with employees on a wide variety of problems that happen every day in the workplace.

But there’s another significant benefit.

A great culture also serves managers by making them feel more supported and valued in their leadership roles. An organized system designed to improve cultural behavior enables managers to take their departments to the next level of performance. It allows them to excel.

A great resource to learn more about how to strengthen your management team and overall operational success is David Friedman’s second book, Culture by Design. In it, he offers a simple step-by-step blueprint that you can follow to improve your company’s culture.

To learn more about how the CultureWise system helps companies empower management teams with performance-driven tools like the CultureWise app, visit the website or reach out to ask questions specific to your business.