I was always very much attracted by great companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google, Zappos, Salesforce and Threadless, just to name a few. I’ve never worked for one of those or similar, nor have I worked for one at the other end of the spectrum, a company with a toxic culture. I think in between the two extremes we find the majority of organisations. You will find harmonious teams with most of the members pulling in the same direction, but also teams with an unpleasant and demoralising culture. The latter is the kind of environment this article is about.
Top executives often talk about transforming the corporate culture and in some cases, they also do make a difference, but personally, I don’t believe a top-down approach creates the most effective and sustainable results when it is about cultural change. I know I will be challenged on this by many CEOs and I'm happy to continue a constructive discussion in the comments section of this post. I think cultural transformation must start at the foundation of an organisation. The culture in your team impacts on you on a day-to-day basis anyway more than the corporate culture, which by the way can be also very different from your team's culture. Changing your team’s micro-culture towards your desired state is a much more attainable task than you might think.
The easiest way to inspire others is to 'be' the kind of person that you are wanting others 'to be'. Simply use your own behaviours and attitudes to model the culture of your team. Depending on the degree of cultural toxicity, group dynamics will kick-in sooner or later; and eventually you will see transformations happening around you. If you don’t know where to start, I have picked below behaviours not because they are the most important ones, but because they are in your power and control. They are also contagious, universal and easy to use.
“People who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done.”
(Stephen R. Covey)
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”
“A smile is a powerful weapon; you can even break ice with it.”
I’m fully aware that those three behaviours do not always - and not in any environment - work, but who knows, just try it, I have never heard of a negative consequence because someone smiled, arrived on time to meetings or did the right thing without being told to do so.
To transform your team’s culture, you have to be the epicentre from which colossal waves of positive energy set a chain reaction in motion.
Your spark will jump over to another micro-culture, and another, and another, until your micro-culture becomes your new corporate culture.
Coming back to my initial question, I believe an exciting role in an average company could be very well worth exploring, knowing that with the right behaviour and attitude you can actually be the sculptor of a great company. That's what my friend has decided to do.
University of Newcastle
NTT ICT Solutions
University Technology Sydney