Culture Versus Morale: How To Avoid A Common Trap

Feb 6 2014, 1:41pm CST | by

Culture Versus Morale: How To Avoid A Common Trap

In far too many outlets and at water-cooler discussions, people discuss “culture” in the workplace, especially at startup workplaces, incorrectly. Most people, in referencing culture, think of a “rah rah” grouping of employees, hugs, laid-back vibe and dress code, maybe free perks – our office has popcorn and slushies – or even a weekly happy hour outing. All of this stuff is great, but it’s not culture. These elements can be fun and enjoyable – I don’t want to be a Scrooge here – but they’re not accurate when culture is the main point up for debate. These factors contribute to a strong morale. The distinction between culture and morale can sometimes be blurry, so let’s talk about what culture is – and how a strong sense of it within your team can impact your performance, and thus, boost morale.

Culture should be viewed as the Operating System for your company, because it’s characterized by the things you do and repeat on a regular basis. Your decision-making process that you employ regularly reflects the priorities that you emphasize, along with the philosophy and values you deem important and want employees to uphold. As a result, the things that you measure (or neglect to measure) on a regular basis fit into this overall framework as well.

For example, the world knows (and loves) Zappos for its superior customer service. That’s a priority to them as a team and the leadership staff prides itself on their ability to sustain such a high standard of excellence; they’ve achieved this by valuing and prioritizing the value of self-expression. This key principle for them is the component of the Operating System that is the “Zappos Culture,” which in turn is exemplified by the antics reported the world over: an annual yearbook, to which every employee contributes, or the desk-decorating frenzy throughout the floors of their office. Each person is encouraged to express himself, which translates to self-confidence and self-empowerment to help clients get their issues resolved, right away without question, in their own style. To be clear, the crazy desks and the awesome yearbook are wonderful, but they’re not culture – they’re simply the vehicle to reinforce the element of culture that does matter to Zappos: self-expression. What values would you want to emphasize at your company? Figure that out first, and then think of the fun, quirky way to drive that message home – not the other way around.

A great way to reinforce cultural values is through the implementation of regular habits or rituals. A great example of this has been utilized by The Ritz Carlton. Every shift, at every property in the company, the entire staff of each hotel gathers for their “Daily Lineup.” This tradition was borrowed by the Ritz, from the early days of luxury French restaurants, when the executive chef would gather the staff to go over the day’s menu to make sure everyone was on the same page and could provide the same messaging. The staff at the Ritz uses the same theory to make sure that all staff members are clued into anything out of the ordinary taking place, and to share “wow” moments with one another. When someone has noticed a fellow employee do something above and beyond the call of duty for a guest, they can tell the group of the peer’s efforts. Two notes are important here: the first is that the group gathers daily, so the regimentation of this allows for an expectation from staff and serves as reinforcement that this meeting is critically important. The second is that a standard of excellence for staff to their guests is rewarded – this cultural value is a priority and is given credence because it’s an agenda item at this critically important, regularly held meeting.

Every company’s priorities and values are different – they need to be uniquely yours and help carve out your niche in the world. However, the most obvious way to keep morale at your company high is by setting a cultural expectation of winning, through a standard of accountability. When the company’s team can believe in the mission and each person feels like she’s contributing to the overall goal, then your cultural values will be easily upheld, and morale will be higher than ever. This doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be rosy every day, but putting wins up on your scoreboard and maintaining a pattern of high performance keeps everyone with their eyes on the prize as part of something bigger than themselves. When that’s the case, your culture will be a strong foundation – a true Operating System – upon which you can grow.

For an inside view into my world as a VC, entrepreneur, author, and keynote speaker, visit JoshLinkner.com.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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