You sense it when you walk in the door – either “this feels like a good place in which to work” or “something is happening here that is causing people to be unhappy and frustrated”. You sense it in body posture, you discover it from the way in which you are greeted and you observe it in the ensuing interactions. Somehow, you are able to perceive whether employees are confident and understand their value within the organisation – do people act as empowered and make decisions easily and with confidence? Is there a sense of ownership present in displayed behaviour or is the response a simple: “You will have to check with my boss”. Every organisation has it – it is called the “organisational culture”. It is how people interact with each other, suppliers and customers. It is how they go about their work. It emerges from shared assumptions and values that drive the organisation. It is even reflected in the physical environment – the way that work areas are organised and the placing of objects and images that decorate the walls, display areas and bookshelves. You pick it up everywhere – it either excites you or leaves you feeling depressed.
Organisational vitality (i.e. a healthy and thriving organisational culture) could be seen as a commercial advantage – enabling high performance without burnout, making relationships meaningful, adding profit to business results and success to careers. It connects strategy with the hearts and minds of all employees and clearly demonstrates the congruence between organisational and personal change. It enables the organisation to tap into the full creative potential of staff and enhances healthier interactions with clients and other partners. It raises the levels of energy within the organisation and funnels it effectively into creative outcomes. It encourages dialogue and values diversity. It promotes an environment of curiosity, courage and empathically truthful interactions. It dispels rumours with honesty and thrives on trusting individuals and their capacity to contribute. It values change and embraces the learning derived from mistakes. It becomes a catalyst for employee health and well-being.
A fundamental leadership responsibility exists for an organisation’s management team – constructing organisational vitality. I use the word “constructing” because there are many building blocks that are critically important in this development of a vital organisational culture, some of which are represented below:
- Demolishing limiting assumptions and myths – the ability to surface and name problems, overcome resistance to change and eliminate secrecy.
- Behaving with integrity – the ability to “walk your talk” within the normal everyday operational environment within the business. This “leading by example” should mirror the company values.
- Ensuring role and performance clarity – delineating responsibilities so that all employees have absolute clarity of what is expected of them.
- Facilitating an empowered environment – the wisdom to give people authority in accordance with their respective levels of responsibility (getting decision-making to the lowest levels possible).
- Opening all communication channels – listening well, expecting managers and supervisors to be having a series of crucial conversations, imparting vision, encouraging the generation of ideas and sharing successes.
- Creating a stretch performance expectation – both individual and team expectations should be clear and published, should be aligned to the strategy and should be discussed continuously.
- Developing an enticing recognition and reward system – the same should resonate with the organisational raison d’étre (reason for being), be aligned to the performance management system and encourage good behaviour.
- Fostering an environment of growth and health – this involves intellectual, emotional, creative, innovative, financial and brand growth and involves all in the process of developing each other and the company as a whole.
Constructing organisational vitality is not just essential for sustainability and growth, but substantially contributes towards employee well-being and confidence – the employees understand the value they offer and can see tangible results from their endeavours. This, in turn, fosters deep respect, mutual learning and self-esteem – all healthy signs of a vital organisation.