Workplace Culture

How to Fix a Culture Problem

A few years ago, a major furniture retailer opened a new mega store in my home city with much fanfare. It was bright and shiny – a shopper’s heaven for the masses! When I visited the store for the first time, each staff person I talked to seemed happy and interested in being there, but unfortunately this excitement didn’t last. I had the opportunity to visit the store twice last week and was struck by how different it was from what I had seen soon after its grand opening. On one of my visits I spoke with six staff members, and only two of them smiled and seemed interested in talking to me. However, it wasn’t just the staff interactions I noticed. Some of the armchairs in the gallery looked distinctly worn. On my first visit last week, I had pointed out that one of their new automatic recliners didn’t work. When I returned later in the week, the same broken recliner was still there – untouched and still broken.

As I left the store, I kept wondering what had changed and what went wrong.

It would be easy to pick on the staff and blame them for their disinterest and lack of care, but I think that would be a mistake. I believe that what I saw in the galleries and what I experienced with staff were symptomatic of an organizational culture problem. And like most workplace problems, leadership likely bears most of the responsibility.

The good news for any organization is that culture problems can be fixed. If I were to provide council to the leaders of this store, I would suggest the following six things:

  1. Focus the leadership team on people. Are leaders sufficiently aware of how they impact others in the workplace? Focus on teaching leaders to care about staff as people, supporting them in their work while also providing healthy levels of accountability.
  2. Communicate purpose and values. Ensure that everyone within the organization understands its purpose and values. Focus on helping employees connect their own work to the organization’s greater purpose.
  3. Provide meaningful work. How much attention has the organization given to making sure that everyone has meaningful work? Focus on understanding each person’s talents and giving them work that builds on their talents and provides them with satisfaction.
  4. Build meaningful relationships. How strong are the relationships within the organization? Focus on creating an environment in which relationships can grow and people can connect with each other.
  5. Practice constructive conflict management. How skilled are employees and managers when it comes to working through conflict? Focus on training people to resolve differences quickly and directly.
  6. Create peak performing teams. How well do people work together? Focus on helping staff collaborate with each other, building diversity into the teams, and capitalizing on collective intelligence.

When we don’t attend to our workplace cultures, our clients and customers will notice. Although I don’t know for sure what was happening in the furniture store, I do know that what I experienced wasn’t great. Attending to workplace culture should be priority number one of any organization’s leadership. When a workplace’s culture is healthy, staff can focus on their work in ways that serve them and their clients well.

For more on creating a healthy and vibrant workplace, stay tuned for the release of our upcoming book: The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. The authors are four members of ACHIEVE’s leadership team – Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun. The formal release date of the book will be in January of 2019. However, the book is available for pre-order now and will be shipped in early December.


Eric Stutzman

Chief Executive Officer

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