How to improve your workplace culture

How to improve your workplace culture


It’s the new year, which means time for a fresh outlook on life and work. If you’re looking to change things up at work to make your workplace more engaging and interesting, follow these steps to facilitate change.


1. Allow time for creativity

Studies on creativity and innovation acknowledge that imposing time pressures can increase cognitive arousal and task engagement. This has proven to be true up to a point and then it dissipated. If you plotted creativity against time pressure, the shape of the graph would be an inverted U. The implication for creating a culture of creativity and high performance in a world obsessed with productivity is that managers must be aware of when teams are trying to get too much done in too little time. Managers take care not to exceed this point, which is counterproductive. The ideal workplace productivity level can be achieved by exploring how to maintain the optimal level of pressure over time without increasing the levels of stress.

2. Redesign feedback processes

CEB conducted a performance management survey of over 19,000 employees and managers from 34 organisations across 7 major industry groups and 29 countries. They discovered that fair and accurate feedback given outside a formal structure was the single most important driver of employee performance compared to a list of 106 other possible factors. Employees who receive fair and accurate feedback from their managers perform nearly 40% better than employees who don’t.

Improving your organisation’s feedback processes can also save you time and money. For instance, Adobe identified that annual reviews required 80,000 hours of managers time each year (the equivalent of 40 full-time employees). In 2012 they stopped conducting formal appraisals and switched to doing regular ‘pulse checks’. This affected 11,000 employees and not just from the top down, but also from the bottom up. 78% of employees reported that their manager is open to feedback from them, a sizeable improvement over past surveys. In 2016, Adobe ranked 87 in Fortune’s top 100 Best Places to Work worldwide.


3. Redefine and reward strengths

Feedback that emphasises an individual’s strengths has been shown to increase performance by 36.4% whereas punishing an individual’s weaknesses decreases performance by 26.8%. This is particularly important in a culture of innovation where experiments don’t always deliver the results the team set out to achieve.

Managers need to incentivise and reward attitudes and behaviours like curiosity, willingness to trial new ideas, embracing bad news and sharing knowledge. The emphasis needs to be on encouraging these traits as strengths, rather than focusing on the achievement of specific results.


4. Manage ambiguity and structure

There is a big drive toward decentralising workplace structures by empowering the frontline with more autonomy. This requires management to embrace the risk of uncertain outcomes. It also requires that frontline employees be confident with less direction and more ambiguity around how they should complete their tasks.

Whilst this type of management style is more agile and is well suited to an innovative culture, it does not suit those who exhibit strengths like conscientiousness. These types of people have a high need for structure and anything less will lead to them underperforming and disengaging from their work. Criticising a highly structured person for their inability to handle ambiguity and change will only lead to them performing below their potential and negatively affecting their coworkers.

Management would do well to clarify for all employees how their performance is evaluated in the context of the overall values of the organisation, as this offers flexibility and structure. According to the Corporate Leadership Report, increasing employees’ knowledge and understanding of the standards by which they are evaluated results in a possible 36% improvement in people’s performance.


5. Be open to new information

People under prolonged stress become close-minded. They default to ingrained opinions, stubborn personal beliefs, and are unable to convert time pressure into creative behaviours, like trialling a new approach or critical thinking based on new information. Individuals not only suffer a drop in their own creativity, they also negatively affect the team’s performance, as they are less likely to help others, perceive information favourably, or have positive expectations about future success.

Organisations can affect culture positively by encouraging people to understand and express their thoughts and feelings clearly and concisely with each other. The emphasis must be on communicating candidly, constructively and concisely as venting is self-centred and destructive.


6. Avoid being overly idealistic

The importance of being candid with thoughts and feelings in a constructive way means that people can point out disagreements without it being received as personal criticism. A positive culture, whilst being enjoyable, may place too much importance on positivity at the expense of diverse thinking. Teams that overweight positivity tend to seek conformity, and individual members shy away from speaking up and expressing their divergence from the norm.


So try to implement these changes in your workplace to ensure that you and your coworkers have a positive and constructive year.

Scarlett is a recent journalism graduate interested in writing, human resource management and workplace culture. When she isn't being a nerd, she enjoys singing, reading and seeing friends.