Influencing Organisational Culture

Essentialism’ is the technical terms for the idea that importance of integrity in the workplace  we have a fixed nature: we are who we are and there’s not a lot we can do about that. Despite plenty of evidence to show that this is a seriously flawed way of thinking, it remains a very common (mis)understanding of human psychology. While it would be foolish not to recognise very strong and lasting patterns of behaviour, thought and emotional response in each one of us, it would be equally foolish not to recognise that people can change and do change.

Such changes can be self-initiated – that is, as a result of making an explicit decision: ‘I will be more patient from now on’; ‘I must cut down on fatty foods as I am worried about my high cholesterol levels’; and so on. However, they are often in response to the circumstances we find ourselves in and we may not even notice that we have changed, so subtle can the differences be. This is often the case in an organisational setting where the influence of other individuals or groups and of the organisational culture can be very strong.

I want to now focus on the organisational culture issues as they can be particularly significant. This is because cultures influence us in very powerful but very subtle ways – we can slide into commonly accepted norms and patterns, generally without recognising that this process is happening. importance of integrity in the workplace

This can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances. For example, some cultures are very negative and characterised by a degree of defeatism and cynicism, which are manifestations of low morale. On the other hand, cultures can be very positive influences, encouraging a supportive set of relationships, promoting learning, creativity and innovation and generating a sense of security. This is the hallmark of good teamwork – a sense of shared endeavour which makes people feel that, however challenging the workplace may be, ‘we are in this together’.

This is where leadership comes in. A major challenge for any leader is to be able to influence the culture in a positive direction, to bring about positive changes and block negative ones. ‘Challenge’ is exactly the right word to use, as influencing a culture is a very difficult and demanding undertaking. But it is also a challenge worth investing time and energy in, as the positive benefits can be immense, while the price we pay for allowing a negative culture to persist is very high indeed.

Managers therefore need to take these issues very seriously, being prepared to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to be able to shape cultures positively. These can be developed, although not overnight. It involves building on existing interpersonal skills to develop trust and credibility.

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