Does the Workforce Define Corporate Culture, or Does Culture Define the Workforce?
By Thomas J. Roach
There are four categories in which to assess workforce contributions: labor, decision-making, degree of effort, and consistency and predictability. Consider what happens to companies where these employee contributions are weak. They have high turnover and increased sick days, no risk-taking and poor judgment, lack of motivation and low production rate, and ultimately, unreliable products and services.
Some managers with unproductive work groups may feel they have no control over the work culture and accept their fate, but innovative companies take the opposite perspective. They realize that business culture defines the workforce, and they mold the culture to create the workforce they want.
Culture is changeable if one realizes that communication processes are its building blocks. If something isn’t communicated, it can’t be part of the culture; therefore the communication processes and the information they pass or don’t pass through the system define the culture.
Processes like monthly corporate communication meetings, weekly workgroup meetings, hiring, orientation, employee review, training, reward and recognition, and suggestion boxes are the components of culture, and changing them one at a time eventually changes the culture of the organization and ultimately its workforce.
Some communication processes have an especially profound impact on culture; hiring selects the employees, and employee review and recognition rewards them and keeps them on track. Additionally, processes like suggestion boxes provide feedback and facilitate adaption for survival.
The formula for success through communication looks like this: communication processes define culture; culture defines the workforce, and the quality of the workforce translates into quality products and services, and that generates profit.
Surprisingly, front line managers, not communication specialists, are the ones responsible for most of the culture-defining communication processes. A communication specialist can design, implement and monitor processes, but line managers must be the leaders and mentors who make a productive communication culture a tangible reality. Managers at all levels have additional responsibilities, but for the most part, “manager” means “manager of people,” and that is done through communication.
Investment capital has never been more accessible than it is now, and most companies draw workers from the same geographical pool as their competition. Success, then, is less dependent on access to capital and short-term profits than on the ability to create a work environment that informs and empowers employees at all levels – a culture with communication that flows up, down and sideways.
Companies that start out small may not appreciate the role of communication and culture. As they grow and broader communication needs develop, they often rely on internal communication centered around sending messages through one-way, top-down media with no consideration of cultural impact. This communication strains the worker-manager relationship because it doesn’t allow for feedback and adjustment.
Another problem for growing companies is that as employees become more specialized, larger corporate goals become less clear. Also, motivation is greatly dependent on one’s relationship to the work group, so as employees become more isolated in larger groups, they are likely to become less motivated.
Some companies try to address this with surveillance, threats, penalties, and mediated messages – what we used to call Theory X management. For reasons that should be obvious, this only exacerbates what is essentially an alienation problem.
Clearly the best way to make a large company have the rewarding, adaptive atmosphere of a family-oriented mom and pop company is to stimulate communication, not to stifle it. Open, two-way communication processes create a culture that attracts self-motivated, goal-oriented employees. Because their efforts are recognized and rewarded, they work harder. And because their work habits are reinforced everyday by a nurturing work culture, their productivity is ongoing and reliable.
The culture defines the workforce.
Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected]