The cultural blind spots that no business can afford to miss

Businesses will very often invest in creating a high-level strategy to drive or strengthen workplace culture. Rightly so, as left undefined a culture can develop into something which undermines the pursuit of a business’ goals.

In defining their culture, a business will typically focus on areas which can be easily quantified, such as safety, innovation or profitability.

While these quantifiable aspects are vital for the survival of a business, it is equally important to address what I like to call cultural blind spots – elements of a culture which, if neglected, can have a similarly significant impact on the bottom line of a business.

Successful changes to workplace culture are driven by the leadership’s vision for the future of the business.

As such, it is essential that leaders can articulate to their employees what is expected of them, how their roles will be carried out, and what the impact will be on the business, for its customers, its employees and other stakeholders.

The leader then needs to model this behaviour through his or her own actions, and in particular how they react to the performance of others in the workplace.

Very often it is in the behaviour and actions of the business leaders that the cultural blinds spots will lurk.

Consider for example the process of determining which employee actions are rewarded and acknowledged within a business.

The aim of rewarding good employees is, of course, to motivate the workforce and improve productivity. However, I’m sure most of us will be able to recall situations where we have marvelled as to why one employee is rewarded with the merit and recognition for their actions when similar actions from another employee go completely unrecognised.

The intentions are good but the impact can be counter-productive, creating a workplace culture which makes unrewarded employees feel they are operating in a vacuum. The unintended result can be disengagement and, ultimately, reduced productivity – the complete opposite of the initial strategic aim.

Mistakes always happen in business. However, the manner in which they are handled often demonstrates another cultural blind spot.

A culture of finger-pointing and blame may be intended to improve standards but it’s surely more productive to create a culture whereby employees and leaders are open to learning from mistakes, taking these lessons on board as a guide to better management in the future.

In a business with a blame culture, people spend time covering their backs and second-guessing actions, to ensure that mistakes won’t come backbite them. It’s an approach more likely to dilute work output, with employees wasting time on covering their backs and avoiding the repercussions of errors.

I’d suggest that a better solution would be for openness and clarity that mistakes provide opportunities for the whole team to learn – not through the humiliation of the employee concerned, but by fostering a culture of communication.

Having a clear process for handling employee issues or people problems in the workplace enables all parties to feel confident in the process and manner in which a grievance will be handled.

Without HR policy and procedures in place to address people-related issues, businesses run the risk of being inconsistent and legislatively uncompliant. The outcomes are often expensive and destructive to the culture of a workplace.

Employees need to have clear expectations of the culture in their workplace, without clouding from cultural blind spots. These blind spots ultimately lead employees to ambiguity, disengagement and reduced employee productivity. That’s a cost which no business can afford.

Amanda Fox, The HR Dept, Perth Inner City