Why building a caring culture is critical (and how HR can influence this)

It hasn't been a stellar year for the culture of many organisations

Why building a caring culture is critical (and how HR can influence this)

by Michelle Gibbings - leadership and career expert

Read the papers or online journals, watch and listen to the news, and you’ll see many instances over the last 12 months where an organisation’s culture has been deemed to be at the root cause of organisational malaise, regulatory breaches or bad customer service.

It hasn’t been a stellar year for the culture of many organisations.

At the same time, the statistics on mental health in the workplace aren’t rosy.

Beyond Blue’s 2017 State of Workplace Mental Health report found that one in five Australians took time off work in the preceding 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. That statistic is more than twice as high (46%) amongst those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy.

The two are connected because an unhealthy culture leads to increased stress in the workplace. Central to changing this is the need to care more.

Caring comes first
When you care, things matter to you. You are concerned about those around you – be they work colleagues, stakeholders or customers. You don’t always put yourself first; instead you consider the needs of others and seek to do the right thing for all concerned. You take individual accountability for your actions.

You also seek to care for your work colleagues and to check in when they don’t seem ok. You create an environment which is safe and supportive.

It can be easy to characterise a caring organisational culture as one that is soft and too easy, and therefore not focused on profitable and sustainable outcomes.

It’s quite the contrary. When employees genuinely care about the customer/client they will go above and beyond to ensure they receive the service or product that meets their needs. When clients are happy, the organisation’s growth follows.

Little things matter

When leaders care, they realise that they are not the most important person in the room, and they don’t hold the licence on being right.

They recognise that everyone wants to feel they matter and to be acknowledged. They take six steps – every day – to build connection and engagement with their team by doing the little things that matter. For example:

1. Being friendly and greeting people when they come in to work in the morning. A simple ‘hello’ can go a long way and it only takes a few seconds
2. Taking an interest in the people they work with at a personal level. Finding out what matters to them and asking about their interests, family and other events that are important to them
3. Not cancelling one on one meetings as they recognise that regularly cancelling makes their team member feel under-valued and adds to their stress levels
4. Being polite and appreciative of the efforts of those around them. It doesn’t take much to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and yet with email communication it can often be forgotten
5. Paying attention and focusing when a team member or colleague is speaking to them. Giving them undivided attention and not answering phone calls or responding to emails during the conversation
6. Picking up the phone and saying ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to people in their team who are making a contribution.

This little bit of effort demonstrates their work is noticed their efforts matter

Stake your claim
When it comes to culture, it can be easy for HR to focus on the ‘culture program’, ‘culture strategy’ or ‘culture framework’ that needs to be developed and rolled out.

What’s far more important is how they role model the required behaviour, and challenge senior leaders when they don’t live up to acceptable standards.

There's no doubt that culture is bigger than one person. However, regardless of the level at which the HR professional operates they have influence on the organisation's culture.

You are not only in the culture and influenced by it, but you are part of the influencing forces in the culture as how you behave each day impacts your immediate work environment. The span of that influence may be narrow or wide, deep or shallow. Obviously the more senior you are, the greater your impact, but regardless of where you sit in the organisational hierarchy your actions each day impact the organisation’s culture.

Ask yourself:

• Are you living up to the organisation’s values every day?
• How is the organisation’s culture influencing your behaviour and that of your colleagues?\
• Is that influence positive or negative, and consequently what do you need to do more or less of?
• What role are you playing in shaping the culture of the team in which you work?
• Could you do more to enhance the culture of your immediate work environment? If so, what would that involve?

As the former CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz said:

“The only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology; we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.”

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