How deep do you go?

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’.

This famous opening line from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin aptly describes the environment within which many of us have grown up or currently reside. It can also easily be applied to our work environment.

Not only can the prevailing culture of where we work distract from business goals, the negative attitudes and behaviours that are regularly repeated and reinforced often result in our being unproductive and, ultimately, unhappy enough to make us consider leaving our job.  

We have all heard the slogans and been presented with the vision statements what we are meant to be doing and who we are meant to be becoming. But a lot of the time this is just wishful thinking or cynical ‘corporate speak’. Generation Y (a.k.a. Millennials), the employees and consumers under thirty-seven years of age who make up over half of the 2015 global workforce, are often the first to check out and leave.

The core value that Gen Y’s look for in any organisation is ‘authenticity’. As employees and consumers they want to know that you act on what you say. If not, they’ll happily switch jobs (sometimes for less pay), consume a different brand or even start their own. One way to check that you’re being ‘authentic’ is to examine your culture.

Culture, in its simplest form, is ‘the way things get done around here’. It is comprised of a set of values that we feel are important and that lead us to believe certain ‘facts’ about our environment. This culminates in our behaving in characteristically appropriate ways to ensure our survival. Many of us want to go one step further, and flourish in our work; others want to take it to a different level, seeking to dominate the work environment. The interplay of all of these different interpersonal motivations and the tone set by leaders and managers are what create our work culture. Researchers, such as the anthropologist Edward T. Hall, have simplified all of this talk about culture into an iceberg diagram.

Above the waterline represents the things we say about ‘how things get done’. These may include policy documents and sets of behavioural competencies that are expected from employees at different levels within the organisation. The buildings we meet in, the way the rooms are laid out, the amount of hours we are contracted to work; all of these factors affect the conscious, tangible aspects of our culture. But of far greater influence to our working culture are those factors that lie below the waterline.

What are the assumptions you bring to work everyday? These may be consciously held but remain unspoken between you and your manager and team. Or they may be unconsciously held and only become apparent when your approach to work is challenged or criticised. This is often the case when interacting with managers and other organisational leaders, as we become unhappy or even resentful when we are treated in ways that go against our values. Ironically, our behaviour may be having the same effect on others without our realising it.

How should your manager behave? In what ways should leaders listen to you and what kind of communication do you expect? Do you value regular check-in emails and phone calls from your team or would you prefer a face-to-face conversation? Your answers to all of these questions will reveal the type of work culture you value. Asking similar questions to your colleagues, your boss and your direct reports will give you more insight into the kind of culture within which you really operate. It will also give you insight into who belongs there and who may not last the course.  

If you get feedback on a few simple diagnostic questions from across the organisation you can quickly find out what cultural values are beneath the surface. You’ll also get a clearer sense of ‘how things really get done’,  what direction your organisation is going in and if your current culture is fit for purpose.

Vision and mission are a good place to start, but questions such as these will help to uncover your organisation’s true culture and your own alignment with the values and behaviours it promotes.