Issue 35

Growing Constructive Cultures

Cristian Philipp
Senior Consultant & Managing Director @ Essential Training and Consulting


Just like people, organizations become constructive through the principles, values, beliefs and the commands transmitted through education. In the professional context we call this educational package Organizational Culture. Let's have a look at a few of the elements that influence a healthy organizational growth.

What makes an employee hide the mistakes when he makes them? To blame someone else or to blame faith? What drives him to say yes, when he wants to say no? How does he get to hide behind, or to justify his actions through procedures? Why does he get into a situation where he prefers to find guilty parties instead of aiming for results?

For which reason do people look for defects in everything they see around them? Why do they need to control everyone all the time? How come an employee is concealing information that a colleague needs, or tries to "look good" over another one? Where does the need to do everything perfect come from?

How come in some companies, employees are working effectively and getting results? What makes them share their points of view without fear? What makes them try new things? Why in some organizations people are helping and offering support to each other, unconditionally? How come people get to believe that everything is working more efficiently in teams and this is making them act in that direction?

How do we get to have motivated employees or frustrated ones? What motivates employees want to do good things for their organization? What determines the quality people to choose working for a company and not for another? Why do we hear people talking in negative terms about the organization they are a part of?

The answer to all this questions is linked, obviously, to our own individuality, to how constructive or destructive our thinking is, influenced by our past education and life experience.

Those personal thinking patterns and behaviors are influenced by the context in which we find ourselves. At the workplace, we all adapt our behaviors to the success criteria promoted by the organization; to what the company values; to behavioral norms promoted by the organizational culture.

In other words, from these cultural elements, valued within the organization, we, as employees, can extract conclusions about the behaviors which are expected from us at our workplace.

The dynamics of our thinking patterns is determined by two types of opposed needs: the security need and the satisfaction need - happiness.

Constructive organizational cultures are the ones that develop a context which facilitates satisfaction oriented behaviors, which grow employees that strive for fulfillment, for achieving results, for growing together with the organization and to add value to themselves through personal development and valuing people.

The opposite, destructive cultures, push the employees to security oriented thinking ways, towards protecting themselves. Causes them to act with fear and insecurity, to cumulate frustrations and see the job as a necessary evil; and obviously, in the end, to choose leaving the organization.

In employee's mind, the organizational culture is translated as the assumptions about company's expectations from him in terms of behaviors. In other words, the kind of behaviors that would make him successful within the organization.

If we understand that by expressing our thoughts we have something to lose as long as they do not coincide with the other's thoughts, we cease to express them. Or, if having different ideas than our boss we may be penalized in some way, we will stop expressing those ideas. If by trying to change the procedures for improving them we are penalized, we will begin to conform. Or, if it's not desirable to "rock the boat", we will avoid doing that, even if the situation is bothering us.

These kinds of examples characterize the passive defensive, security oriented cultures, defined by approval styles, conventionalism, authority dependence and avoiding to assume responsibilities. As employees in organizations with such cultures, we understand success as remaining in the comfort zone, lacking the initiative, showing docility and manifesting opposition to change. These are the cultures that make us act driven by fear, and, in time, to cumulate frustrations.

If we understand that the organization wants us to be in control all the time, to prove that we are better than others or to make things perfectly, then the behaviors which we are determined to assume are those of imposing, rivalry, suspicion, putting pressure on ourselves and others. If we understand that, within the company we are working for, the mistakes are not allowed, when we make mistakes we will try to hide them or find others responsible for them. We get to such conclusions when we work in organizations which promote aggressive defensive cultures, competition between employees, control and pressure. These are the cultures that make us act driven by uncertainty, to always feel the need of proving something. In time, this leads to destructive conflicts, tensions and bad quality relations.

Constructive organizations are the ones that stimulate our solution oriented thinking and not focusing on problems or guilt, encourage us to express our ideas and out of the box thinking, to value others and to be team players. In such organizations there is no fear of making mistakes, the controlling approaches and individualism are missing; the destructive competition and opposition to change are not common practices.

Such constructive cultures develop themselves by valuing both people and long term results, by focusing on continuous improvement and innovation, by enabling strategic thinking , using structured ways of working and creating all premises for open communication, trust, support and respect.

These are the cultures in which people feel good, happy and motivated to create added value. What truly motivates people is the culture where the feeling of belonging is strong and where they are feeling valued, supported, encouraged and appreciated; where they feel that they can influence things and their opinion matters; not the least, where the outcome of their work is valuable.

Constructive cultures enable long term organizational success and their impact is visible in:

How do we develop constructive cultures?

By defining constructive values, encouraging leaders to adopt and live by them, aligning leadership styles to those values and creating the premises of sustainability at organizational structure level, support systems, job design and the required competences.

All of these can be developed through actions inspired by a healthy strategic direction which takes the cultural factor into consideration and understands the vital impact that culture has over organizational effectiveness and over the climate within the company.

The starting point of the process is analyzing the current culture and the causal factors that lead to it. In parallel, we need to define the ideal/desired culture. By comparing the current with the ideal we can highlight the gaps between the current state and the ideal one and the intervention areas. Based on this analysis we can extract conclusions about the strategic direction to follow and then start creating the premises to move from the current status to the ideal one.

The scheme below shows how organizational culture impacts customer satisfaction, which is the most important indicator for company's success and long term stability.

The long term success of the company depends on defining constructive cultural premises, aligning the leadership practices to those premises and creating sustainability.

The factors that influence culture include: Mission and Philosophy (Articulation of mission and Customer service focus), Structures (Influence, Empowerment and Involvement), Systems (Selection & placement, Training & development, Respect, Appraisal & reinforcement and Goal setting), Technology (Autonomy, Variety, Feedback, Task identity, Significance and Interdependence) and Skills/Qualities (Communication, Bases of power and Leadership).

These become the Levers for Change in the development planning phase.

When an organization's systems, structures, technology and skills /qualities are in alignment with the stated values, vision, mission and goals, then a constructive culture will emerge.



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