As leaders of organizations, it’s our job to use our understanding of cultural diversity to help our workplaces be productive environments for all employees.
As part of my own self-guided tour of cultural perspectives, I met with a gentleman originally from Nigeria. He helps refugees acclimate to American culture and assists employers in integrating New Americans into their businesses. We talked about how people’s cultures influence their decisions about food, clothing, personal relationships and more. It was a fascinating conversation that eventually turned to work settings and what employers need to do.
Our unified sense was that in order to transcend employees’ diverse backgrounds and cultures, a workplace must have an established culture of its own. In other words, companies must have an organizational culture that helps direct a diverse group of people toward a common set of goals.
So what are the basic building blocks of a productive organizational culture?
First and foremost, a workplace must be safe. For example, let’s consider a work environment, a manufacturer, with employees coming from a variety of countries, some of which have been, or are, at war with each other. What level of tolerance do you suggest that company has for threats of violence, racial slurs, or individuals refusing to work with other individuals because of some hate or bias against that employee’s country of origin or culture?
We know the answer: you do not tolerate such behavior in any employee (in any company) because to tolerate it in one employee and not in another will make the work environment unsafe and set the organization up for a lawsuit on the grounds of differential treatment of employees. Organizational policies must support safety as a high priority, and all employees must be trained and demonstrate an understanding of those policies. Supervisors and upper management must then support safety policies and enforce them.
The second building block is developing a sense of belonging. Studies show that employees are much less likely to switch jobs if they have a supervisor who knows their name, greets them, and takes the time to know something about them. Having a friend in the workplace is another primary reason employees stay with an employer. The values an organization espouses play a key role in establishing a culture that promotes and grows a sense of belonging among its employees.
Values such as honesty, respectful communication, and integrity that are incorporated into policies, performance reviews and disciplinary processes can go a long way towards establishing a culture in which people interact, feel connected and want to do their job. Organizations that do not attend to such humane practices tend to have higher rates of turnover and the additional costs related to recruitment, retraining, and losses in productivity.
The third building block is to develop a sense of purpose beyond self. What this means is employees need to believe the work they are doing is serving the greater good in some way. The greater good does not have to be complex; it may be building products that bring fun into people’s lives, providing services that improve the human condition, or constructing affordable homes for families, to name a few.
Mission and vision statements are often where we try and express how our organizations serve that greater good. Too often though, employees feel disconnected from their employer’s mission and vision. This is often a consequence of the organization not doing a good enough job in developing a culture where employees feel safe and have a sense of belonging. Organizations who genuinely involve their employees in strategic planning and providing feedback on mission and vision get a greater commitment from those employees towards the organization’s goals. Furthermore, highly productive organizations are typically those that have incorporated mission, vision, values, and safety into how they evaluate themselves and how employee performance is evaluated.
An organizational culture that provides a safe place to work, encourages a sense of belonging, and provides employees a sense of purpose in their work will transcend the potential for competition or conflict between cultures of individual employees.
Darrin D. Tonsfeldt, MS, LP, LPC, NCC, CEAP, SPHR, is the Director of In Office and Organizational Services at the Village Family Service Center in Fargo. He has a background in program administration, employee supervision and clinical experience, as well as 18 years of experience in organizational consulting and planning. Darrin is a MN Licensed Psychologist, a ND Licensed Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor and a Certified Employee Assistance Professional. Also, he provides oversight of The Village Business Institute’s programs, the Village counseling services, along with consulting services that include career, leadership, management, and executive coaching, corporate training and group facilitation, crisis response in the workplace and organizational consulting.