Office Culture. You’ve probably heard this phrase on several occasions. Particularly, if you’ve been enticed by the idea of an office that fosters team work, positivity, dependability and so on. Then it’s probable that you’ve come across that phrase a lot.
Which, of course, inevitably leads to asking, “What does office culture really mean?”
We’re going to take a deeper look at what it means in just a second but simply put: Office culture is the collective attitude and behaviors of your team, which results in the way that you do business with patients AND how your team interacts with each other.
The culture of an office will not only affect official office policy & processes, but also contains a set of unspoken & unwritten rules around behavior.
It’s through the people on your team that ultimately make up the group’s values, beliefs, and assumptions.
Office Culture: ‘Soft’ topic to tangible metrics
It’s understandable that it might be hard to nail down what culture you have you in your office because it’s considered a “soft” topic (consisting of social & emotional cues). But it’s important to understand that it’s ultimately the people on your team that either help or hinder the culture.
The attitude & behavior of the team is represented by the language your team uses, decision making, the story of the business & individuals, and daily practices.
For a better understanding, let’s take a look at the culture in two fictional offices and we’ll pretend you’re a visitor who has come to provide an outsider’s assessment of the office culture.
The Compromised Culture with Office A
It’s Monday morning, and more than half the team members arrive late. The morning meeting also starts late and is met with crossed arms & yawns. Throughout the day, you hear several people on the team use these phrases: “That’s not my job”, “I can’t”, and “I’m behind because someone else didn’t do their job”.
You notice that many of the patients are left waiting in the reception for more than 20 minutes, inspite of them arriving on-time but no one acknowledges this. A few hiccups in the day leads the team into a frenzy where no one is communicating about what’s going on, or what the game-plan is. At the end of the day, many team members clock out early to go home in-spite of other team members still turning rooms, and making calls for the next day.
The Desirable Culture with Office B
Again, it’s Monday morning and when you arrive the entire team is already there getting things ready. The entire team stands in a circle promptly at 8:03 AM and begin to identify team/individual wins, discuss opportunities in the day’s schedule, and what the goals for the day are. The huddle ends with an all-hands-in “Go Team!”
Throughout the day, you see team members jump into different seats to provide support when & where needed. Apparently, no task is beneath anyone. The conversation you catch multiple times throughout the day is centered around the team’s excitement for the volunteer charity work the team is going to be doing this Saturday.
A few hiccups in the schedule, cues the team to huddle once again and communicate a new plan. Each person knows their role and begins taking action.
At the end of the day, high-fives are being dueled out because in-spite of the hiccups every patient in the schedule was still provided exceptional service. Everyone makes sure that the important tasks are completed & each team member is given support if needed before any team member clocks out for the day.
What’s your assessment?
There’s obviously a stark difference in the way that office A & B operate and interact as a team. If you had to pick out what the collective attitude and/or behavior for team A is, what would it be?
Every man/woman for themselves, right? There’s zero team work which seems to indicate that there’s no value alignment.
What about with team B? They work as a team, they’re engaged, they communicate, they celebrate, and they care about their patient’s experience, and they seem to care about charity. So you might say a few of the obvious values are team work, communication, celebration or positivity, generosity, and patient-centric.
Looking At The Tangible Metrics
Even though these two offices are fictional (and we’ve only been given a quick glance), you can image how the language, the decisions the team make, the story they are writing, and the daily practices of team B will be rooted in those values we just identified.
They wouldn’t say, “I can’t” or “That’s not my job”. Instead we saw how they say “yes”, or got creative and jumped into different seats to ensure the patient flow goes smoothly (aka the values of team work & patient-centric culture). We saw that they made decisions to re-huddle and help each other at the end of the day which are in alignment with the values of communication & team work.
It seems that in their company story they would also have many other examples where things went wrong but the team came to each other’s aide and “won” (the value of team work). Their strategic re-huddle tells me they’ve got experience in coming together as a team. Lastly, it’s apparent that they’ve established daily practices, such as daily celebrations & focused morning huddles, which continue to support their value of communication and team work.
We could easily keep dissecting the behavior & attitudes of team B and I’m certain we’d continue to find alignment with what they value, believe, and assume collectively versus team A who doesn’t really seem to possess any kind of collective alignment.
Become Intentional With Your Office Culture
Whether or not you know it, your office has a culture.
Although you’ll probably agree that it’s readily apparent when other business have a good culture vs. a bad one, a lot of dentists miss the boat on being intentional with their office culture to ensure that it ends up being a good one. Or more accurately, a consistent one.
Because consistency is really what makes a culture “good”.
This missed opportunity is unfortunate because culture is truly the ‘happiness’ ignitor.
A sense of purpose and clarity on the types of expected actions are established within an office culture.
When there’s misalignment, employee and patient satisfaction decreases (retention), productivity is hard, and profitability is compromised.
Here’s 6 Steps to Setting the Intention Around A Great Office Culture:
1. Establish Well-Defined Values and Purpose.
When you have a strong office culture most people in the team will agree on the values, behaviors, and attitudes that the team has. When the culture is weak there may be subcultures within departments, making it hard to define what the shared values, behaviors, and attitudes are.
Having company-wide things like a vision, mission, and core values sets a solid foundation as to what behaviors (language, decisions, stories, & daily practices) and attitudes (values, beliefs, & assumptions) are expected.
Those will enable employees to be able to answer the questions: Why do we do what we do? What really matters to us?
Setting values and purpose is great but every team member needs to have the same definition and understanding of what those things actually mean so that they can be engaged.
Just for a fun exercise on the importance of definitions: ask a few different people what it means to be positive. Some might say that being positive means that you never say anything negative. Some may say that it means you find a silver lining in everything. And still others may say that it means you focus on what you can do vs. what you can’t.
If you do this quick exercise you’ll see how a mis-match in definitions could easily lead to mis-comminucations and expectations not being met. Therefore, it’s imperative that the team have the same definition of the office’s core values and the same understanding of the mission & vision.
2. Hire Culture-fits & Properly On-board Them.
Office culture shifts are difficult because they require that behavior & attitude changes. Thus, it is in the team’s (& business’s) best interest that any new-hire fit with the defined vision, mission, and core values. It’s much better to have someone who naturally values the same things that the team values, than to have someone who would have to be fundamentally changed.
For example, let’s say your team values generosity. Hiring someone who does not like to give will be a huge burden and toxic to the team culture.
If your culture is not made clear from day one, then they will create their own version. So be sure that the people on the team are a good culture fit and there is a solid culture on-boarding process in place.
3. Create Daily Practices That Support The Culture.
Your office culture is really a living breathing thing, because it’s the people on the team who either keep a good one in place or allow compromise to eek in. Office culture is something that’s being worked on all the time and it’s crucial to constantly use systems, tools, and foster discussions that will drive the culture in the right direction.
Without daily practices seemingly small changes, like one new team member or a solid team member gone, can create an astronomical imbalance. However, having things in place that constantly educate, relay, and drive the team’s buy-in is how strong office cultures manage the inevitable ups and downs.
4. Record & Repeat the Story.
When you think about people in general, we’re pretty emotional beings. We connect through stories and experiences because that’s what makes things memorable and understandable.
So you could continue chanting your office core values every morning like robots or you could record & repeat stories that tie into the core values & mission to reach people on an emotional level.
A story to explain what this means seems appropriate:
I was at a dental conference and one speaker in particular was talking about business culture. This speaker was a Chick-fil-a representative who told a story about an employee who embodied their value of 2nd mile service. The employee was a cashier, not a manager, and he discovered that a customer who was traveling across the country had accidentally left her purse. When she called to ask them just to hang onto it for her until she was heading back home (because she was already 50 miles away), he asked what she was going to do about not having her id or any of her credit cards during her trip.
She said that she really had no idea, and he could tell that things would be incredibly tough for her. So he said that he’d drive 25 miles to meet her half way. No-one asked him to do this, and he wasn’t even in a managerial position where something like that might be expected. When asked why he went out of his way, he said, “It’s just what we do.”
Maybe you’ve heard the story, or maybe you hadn’t but it’s likely the next time you hear about Chick-fil-a’s 2nd Mile Service you’ll know what it truly means because you’ll remember the story.
The same is true for your team. Find, write down, and share the stories that show what your core values look like and truly mean.
5. Develop Leaders Who Drive The Culture.
First of all, it’s true that the team is closely watching you and any one who is in a position of authority. Thus, the importance of modeling the expected behavior and attitude is of the upmost importance. If you’ve got an office manager or leaders who aren’t all on the same page or on-board with the culture what do think is going to happen? That’s right, it will decay the culture that you’ve worked so hard to put in place.
Setting a good example starts at the head of the company. You and your team leaders must not compromise when it comes to the office culture.
Do you set the value of team work but then allow gossip to prevail? Do you ask for positivity but then bring negativity?
You need to first set the example. Then empower your leaders to set the example.
It’s important to note that people aren’t perfect, and no one expects perfection. But you must be making progress, and if you mess up that’s ok. Just admit it and move forward. Your team will appreciate humility.
Take a look at what sorts of behaviors are recognized or rewarded in your office? What poor behaviors are being allowed? Where does compromise exist when it comes to the office culture?
Empower your leadership team to drive the company culture by setting the example, recognizing good behaviors that tie to the values, and empowering the people on their teams to do the same.
6. Measure It & Hold People Accountable.
Think about a time that you visited a business and you could tell that the employees didn’t work as a team, maybe there was an air of animosity, and (it’s probable) the service at that business was also sub-par.
The likely reason for the business’s toxic environment is due to the company’s culture.
There’s a disconnect with the employee’s and the purpose. There’s misalignment with the mission and the values. And there’s most likely a lack of accountability from the leadership team.
It’s one thing to set & define a culture. It’s another to go a step further and measure how everyone is doing & hold people to that standard.
If you gave a pass or fail how do you rank with the core values? The mission? Where does your leadership team rank with those? What about the individual members? And what about the team as a whole?
What It Really Means to Have a Great Office Culture
So now you know that office culture is the collective behaviors and attitude of the team. Which are represented by the language your team uses, what & how decisions are made, the story of the business & individuals, and the daily practices put in place. You know that you have a strong culture when collective characteristics about your team’s behavior & attitude can be easily identified and defined.
The “great” part in ‘Great Office Culture’ comes when you’re able to retain/attract employees & customers, stay consistent in your processes (productivity), and when your office operations support profitability.
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