Culture is Communication

The Business Environment Can Be Analyzed And Managed If It Is Seen As A Network Of Communication Processes.

By Thomas J. Roach

Businesses are social institutions. Anyone who thinks a company is a clockwork mechanism driven by employees carrying out orders from managers is delusional. No matter where someone appears on the organization chart, their performance is governed mainly by the examples and expectations of mentors and coworkers. 

Directives, rules and laws attempt to provide parameters, but our social environment tells us which rules to follow and which to ignore, and it makes us aware of a profound matrix of rules that go unspoken. 

Job descriptions and orders tell us what to do, but environment governs how we deal with the variables. An employee may or may not understand the reason for a directive, may or may not be motivated to do quality work, and may or may not adapt to unanticipated events. 

The cultural message in an authoritarian environment is follow orders, don’t question them, and don’t take chances, but managing every detail of an employee’s activity is impossible. No leader can know the flood of information in a subordinate’s world, and if that were possible, there wouldn’t be enough time in the day to direct the actions of more than one person.

Managers and subordinates are guided by an irresistible force of social recognition and expectations. Enlightened managers don’t manage their subordinates; they manage the business culture that surrounds them. They are open to feedback, they recognize effort, they reward creative thinking, and they treat the employees the way they want the employees to treat their internal and external customers. 

Culture is Manifest
Communication processes native to most businesses are hiring, orientation, training, employee review, open door policy, meeting protocols, role modeling, and reward and recognition. The business environment can be analyzed and managed if it is seen as a network of communication processes. By managing these individual processes, you manage culture, and by managing culture, you manage an entire workforce. 

Understanding how to manage a business culture is only half of the challenge, however. The other half of the equation is determining what kind of culture you want to sustain. Most of us don’t think about the quality of business culture unless we are job searching. 

We want to work for companies that recognize and reward productive behavior, have friendly supportive environments, produce quality products and services, and that offer a level of security. 

The benefits for the employee in a progressive business culture are apparent, but the company and its shareholders also benefit. Well informed, motivated employees who can adapt and produce results in unanticipated situations are money-makers. 

If this isn’t abundantly clear, apply it to basketball or football. How successful would a team be if the coach drew up plays and players took the field and did exactly what they were told and nothing more? 

Paradigm of Values 
Leadership needs to establish a paradigm of values that guides employees by teaching, recognizing, rewarding, and modeling good behavior. Without this effort, the default culture is a nightmare where managers are a privileged class giving orders to underlings, taking credit for successes, and punishing anyone who disobeys or makes a mistake. 

Forget about what you say in the mission statement. Look around you. Who gets credit? Who gets promoted? Does your organization condemn or reward selfishness and ruthless behavior? 

The body follows the head. The leaders at the top of the organization should be modeling good behavior and, just as importantly, monitoring subordinates to make sure bad managers don’t get promoted and good managers don’t get driven out of the organization.

Money and equipment don’t make successful organizations; people do. Consider how carefully you manage your budget and the effort you make to keep the machines running. Are you making a parallel effort to maintain culture? 

You should. 

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].