Why creating a strong workplace culture should be your top priority

Posted On March 5, 2023

We’ve talked a lot in my podcasts about workplace culture. It’s always been an important piece of a successful business, but as we’ve emerged from the pandemic, it may now be the most important factor to long-term success.

Our guest in the latest episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston” certainly thinks so. Richard Jolly is an associate clinical professor of management and organization at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Jolly, who is also a Director of the consulting firm Stokes & Jolly Ltd., says creating a positive workplace culture is more than a desire or a goal for senior executives – it should be their top priority.

“You’ve got to focus on: What is the environment we’re creating?” he said. “The role of senior management has fundamentally shifted. Now you can’t just get away with being senior, a subject-matter expert. You’ve got to be good at interacting with people. And that’s a big shift.”

Why is it so important? Jolly says most companies that are failing today aren’t failing because of bad strategy. They’re failing because they aren’t able to execute that strategy. And that’s a direct result of culture, or as Jolly says, “the way we do things around here.”

“You can understand a company’s culture by basically sitting in reception of the head office for 15 minutes,” he said. “It’s how people behave.”

Poor workplace culture is a leading reason for talent walking out the door – or not walking in it in the first place. Jolly said nearly 80 percent of young job applicants will evaluate a company’s culture before applying for a job, according to recent studies, and over half consider culture more important than money.

What can you do to improve your workplace culture? A first step, Jolly says, is understanding that the old “command and control” style of management just doesn’t work anymore. “Leadership is not about command and control,” he said. “It’s about creating this context where people understand who we are and where we’re going.”

Once we move past that, Jolly espouses a “philosophy of reciprocity” in which managers take time to think about how to make the lives and jobs of their employees better. He noted as an example one CEO of a $4 billion company who, during the pandemic, told his employees to just go home and take care of their families first.

That’s a leap of faith, but it’s also empowering your employees. That trust will be reciprocated. And it will provide a model for the kind of workplace culture you want to cultivate.

“One way or another, your attitude toward your employees is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “If you feel like they’re stupid, lazy and incompetent and out to sue you and do what they can to take advantage, you will be right. If you think they’re actually smart, capable people who really want to do their best, you’re also probably going to be right.”

Categories: Blog, Podcast, What's Working with Cam Marston, Work, Workplace