Culture, Management Thinking

Your Employees Feel, Not Hear, Your Culture

This post from Vital Smarts is about how a personal brand relates to the perceptions of others. Your brand is co-created with your stakeholders and based in their perceptions, which you cannot directly control. People perceive your actions from their own perspective, not from yours. In many ways, organizational culture and engagement share this problem. The culture (“how things are done around here”) represents a similar perception problem. Engagement (“how employees feel about and respond to the culture”) is even more perception-based.

This means that unless the leaders ask how the employees feel about the culture, the leaders won’t know. In my experience, most organization’s leaders don’t ask, because they don’t see a problem from their own perspective. Therefore, they figure everything is OK. In the current marketplace, there is no room for this kind of complacency. Your good employees are highly mobile and, most likely, won’t tell you they’re not happy until it is too late for you to retain them.

The bottom line is that the five steps outlined in the post should be applied to the culture/engagement loop.
In brief, they are:

  1. There is no such thing as a “false” perception. There are only different perceptions from different people.
  2. Accept the current perceptions. Since people’s perceptions are not “wrong”, we have to take them where they are. We will fail if our position is “let me help you correct your perception of the situation.”
  3. Understand the current perceptions. The only way you can know how people perceive the situation is to ask them.
  4. Don’t build a non-negative brand. Being perceived as “not X” is not a strong position. Figure out the positive statement of the negative and pursue that. You can’t build a strong culture if you pursue “we’re not uncaring.” “We are a caring organization” is much better. Take some active steps to change the reality that others perceive.
  5. Seek feedback on the perception of your efforts. Doing so shows respect for your employees and prompts them to reevaluate their perceptions. If they perceive a change, they will appreciate your efforts. If they don’t, you have received valuable feedback on the outcomes of your efforts.

Your organizational culture is too important to be left to chance or wishful thinking. Over time, iterating through the cycle above will produce a positive cultural and engagement “brand” for your organization.

Question: Is your organization intentional about understanding how your employees perceive your culture?