Single cell organism, have just one cell and their only ability is to send or receive signal from other single cell organism. And with this one communication tool that they have in their midst, single cell organism sense a quorum- i.e. when they send out signals they are also able to sense if they are enough number of them present. Once they reach quorum, the organism is in that density in which they are able to work together to release a gene which creates a difference – like making the ‘Hawaiian Bob Tail’ Squid glow.
This is akin to how our organizations work. Every individual contributes towards the common business goals based on his or her skill and ability but the very foundation of a well functioning organization is its communication. And this drives employee engagement and builds a culture. Unfortunately, when terms like employee engagement or culture-building is spoken of, most assume a fluffy HR run team-building exercise.
Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave. The success of an organization is when employees adapt and value this culture as their own. Building collaboration and sense of purpose adds value to employee who is then willing to invest effort in working towards the common goal. This is when employees own the goals as their own and are more likely to innovate, find solutions to problems and be participative. On the reverse when there is a communication break-down, employees are likely to abide by check-lists, follow the clock and easily give up and push problems upwards for ‘approvals’.
Why should organizations invest so much effort to building cultures and ensure engagement? An ISR global engagement study states that, there is 52% gap in operating income between companies where employees are highly engaged and in those companies where employees are disengaged. Additionally, a disengaged workforce is 20% more likely to miss deadlines and fail to engage with customers on important transactions.
Building a culture of trust and shared values largely depends on how organizations communicate on some of the following aspects:
- Information Sharing – is information shared as a privilege or is it available for all
- Outcomes – How are success and especially failures treated and communicated. Sometimes failures are publicly shamed and thereby those who were responsible
- Feedback & Surveys – Are employees allowed to share feedback? Is it collected but never acted upon. Does giving feedback have consequence?
- Performance Management – Is cohesive trait recognized as desirable? Are aggressive, lone star performers rewarded more frequently than those who work within teams?
- Documentation – Are documents within the organization updated and relevant? Are policies and process ambiguous and changes to them sly & without broadcast?
- Visibility – of leadership team on the floor. Is it frequent and is it friendly.
- Decision Making – how are they made, is there an effort to take suggestions? Can decisions be challenged or changed by logic and reason?
Building a successful culture requires frequent and regular communication which is participatory and free of repercussions. And messages have to be clear and free of ambiguity. Luckily, with hand held devices- sharing ideas, having discussions, giving feedback across levels, appreciation across the organization has become simpler, and that’s a good start.