Why Culture Is About People

I often get the question – what is culture and where does it come from? Why does it matter? We go to work and do our jobs… But we also know that we either feel good at work, or we don’t. There’s of course a grey area in between, but you probably know what I mean. You walk into work and there is just something about the place, that makes you feel one way or the other. Sometimes stress is in the air, sometimes there is a general good mood, that makes you relax.

Work-place culture can be a confusing topic. It looks good on the surface, but it’s difficult to understand “how it actually works” and why it impacts the bottom line as much as it does.

Culture is not just a cool place to work.

Let’s not confuse culture with a “cool place to work”. The community tables, pour-over coffee, beer on tap, ping-pong and yoga classes are great and I could go on to health benefits and more time off. The question becomes… is that what makes up a healthy culture? Essentially culture is everywhere. We have it whether we know it or not. Or I should say, whether we have intentionally cultivated a culture that supports our core values and brand.

It is not great facilities and benefits that makes up a culture, though these things attract people, who want a certain work-environment. Now you could argue that’s what makes up the culture, – people who are mutually attracted by these benefits. That might work in a co-working space, where everyone is their own boss and responsible for their own work experience, and because alike attracts alike, it creates a work-environment where entrepreneurs feel they belong.

Essentially culture does come from a shared sense of work/life quality, mutual sense purpose and values that tie the community together. But how does that affect a company where we are all different? We all have different needs to satisfy in order to feel that we belong and matter.

The culture illusion we have going on right now is that we need more perks to make us happy. Is that true though?

What is a healthy culture? 

One that works better is the smarty-pant answer, but how do we achieve it?

When I ask companies, that hire me to help them rethink work-place performance and culture, if they have a healthy culture, the conversation tends to starts with them listing their health-benefits and flexible work hours. When I ask if their people are actually healthy, they don’t really know which is understandable because what does healthy really mean other than the doctor’s note that your numbers are fine and your weight is within range. The sad truth about that we think it means to be healthy. Another marker is that insurance costs have gone down and they log less-sick days, again the most basic checklist for how a health-benefits affect the immediate bottom line. Important yes, but not what makes a healthy culture and not the only way to affect the bottom line by cultivating a healthy culture.One, that works better.

When I work with people who are just trying to survive work, be it leaders, creatives, sales people or admin, we all have one core need. To feel that we matter and that our work makes a difference in the whole.

If you read my article about burnout, who would see that it is emotional burnout that is lurking, not just the physical need for water, food and sleep.

A healthy culture is about inclusion.

Healthy people are not about numbers, it is about happiness and engagement and so is culture. Culture is not about more benefits, it’s about people feeling included. That they matter and belong. That they are safe and cared about. Not just for… about.

A healthy culture is about healthy relationships between the team members, and between leadership and team. But this is the catch. All healthy relationships starts with the one we have with ourselves, which gets complicated, because that relationship is impacted by the work environment and the people we share it with.

Essentially culture is an organic, dynamic, constantly changing organism. Just like nature.

A healthy culture is like gardening. 

So, what comes first? People or leadership? (yes, leaders are people too, but you know what I mean). You can think of the office environment as the landscape; the location, the rain, the sun, the wind and also the quality of the soil. 

Nurturing the soil is what we do when we design a space that has ergonomic seating, good air quality, noise reduction, privacy and community areas, soothing colors and light. Basically, the kind of space that offers low stress on the nervous-system and encourages overall wellbeing. This is where benefits and accessibility to tools, that help cope with the stressor of work, are important. And this is where most companies stop nourishing the work culture. It’s the tick the box kind of thing. We offer this… we are good. Well what if that is not so?

One more step. 

That’s what I call a culture-brand. It has all the right elements, it looks good to the public, it attracts the right people. But the real test is when we start using it and need customer service.

We need to take it a step further, because as I mentioned above, a healthy culture is about healthy people and that comes from healthy relationships and it starts with the individual.

This is where the gardener comes in. 

The plants in a garden are the people on the workforce and the gardener, is the leader. Each plant needs the basics of what all plants need, and yet each plant has unique needs, just like we humans. 

The plants need the right amount of light, water, and temperature, we humans need water, food and rest. But beyond that, a gardener observes, organizes and supports the nourishment of each plant. Makes sure there is the right amount of nutrients in the soil and stays in touch with the changing weather, which will affect the health and growth of each plant. Just like the weather changes, so does the work-stress and the problems we need to tackle each day.

Sometimes you need to remove and weed, sometimes you need to clip and prune, sometimes you need to fertilize and spend more time figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you have to adjust and sometimes you just have to leave the “plant” to do what it already knows how to do under the right circumstances. Thrive. 

The problems we face is similar, an untended garden will see overgrowth of weeds and undernourishment of the plants we want to grow, leading other plants to try to succeed on their own, on survival mode. They are tired, lack-luster and wilting. Can they be resurrected? Sure they can, unless they have gone too far and they burn out.

We humans, like plants, are organism that are interdependent, constantly engaging and interacting with our environment. And like nature, each plant needs its own nourishment and each plant contributes to the whole.

Can you as a leader focus on every single individual? Perhaps not, but you can foster a culture where each individual knows, that their needs matter to you and give them the tools and the support to thrive.

Mindset matters.

The mindset is what’s essential here. A leader with a performance ready-mindset works to give the people the right circumstances, the right tools and the right support to be at their best. It is like the gardener, who knows what the plants need to thrive and if they don’t, will figure out what they need.

My garden this year had too much rain and I ended up with a lot of rotten tomatoes. If my garden was an organization, I would have a problem. I would have a lot of sick people. My only solution was to tear out the tomatoes and start over. We cannot afford that at work. I could have acted earlier, if I was around, I could have sheltered my tomatoes from too much rain. I could have adjusted their growing environment to help them succeed. But I wasn’t around. I didn’t pay attention. Had that been my company, I would have lost most of my people to an unhealthy work-environment. 

The leader is like the gardener, who observes, takes note, listens and adjusts to create the right environment for plants to do what plants do best. Grow and flourish. People are like plants – healthy plants create a lush garden. Healthy people create a healthy culture and a healthy culture creates a healthy company. It is the inside out approach to culture, where leadership supports people in creating a healthy, winning culture, that feeds the bottom line. 

It is not either or, we are all in this together. Culture happens in community. Culture happens when we care. That’s the Nourishment Effect™ that supports us in thriving as individuals, which helps us thrive as a company.

If you or your organization would like to know more about how to grow a healthier work-culture, feel free to email me.