Changing Culture Where You Work

Nov 28, 2012

I think about culture a lot. While I build up my product business, I still work for the man, and where I work suffers from some pretty bad business practices and an extremely toxic culture. I am not going sit and complain about the situation, I just want to touch on few things that can help the culture where you work.

You can’t change it in the middle

It should seem obvious, but you can’t change culture from the middle, only from the top. It has to trickle down from whomever is running the show. That’s how it became the way it is and that’s the only path to change.

For example, let’s say the culture where you are at is one of passing the blame to the next guy. You know, shit runs downhill type of thing. You can try as hard as you want to change the way fingers are pointed. You can try to start a culture of accountability. Sorry friend, it will not work. There is only one person in that whole company you can change.

Start with something small

I’m sure you know who that person is. Yep. It’s you. The only way I have found to change culture is by leading. You have to get off of your soapbox and change the way you work. You have to change the way you talk to your coworkers. You have to change the way you accept responsibility.

Small things make the difference. One thing that I do at work is to ask instead of assign. When I know someone has more knowledge about a certain task, or I feel they could do a better job than I could, I ask them. ‘John, could you help me out and email Joe? You’re more knowledgeable about the business than I am.’ goes way further then ‘This isn’t my job. John deals with that. Have him do it’. The latter is how things were when I got here. By changing the way I approach asking for help, I’ve started to see some changes, although, they are very small.

Educating instead of dictating

One last thing. Try educating instead of dictating. We use Redmine for all of our issue tracking. The non-computer people hate it. They see it as a waste of their time, difficult to use, and something that they are forced to do. We still force them to use it, but we explain why. We explain that in order for a coworker 6 months or a year from now to understand what happened and what was done to fix it, we need issues and dialogue in Redmine. That the documentation that is left behind is extremely helpful, and that sometimes people move on and we want to help the next guy that might be supporting the software.

Similar to asking, this is starting to get somewhere. Coworkers are starting to see the benefit and are willing to give it a shot. They are willing to help because we help them understand why.

So, we are changing the culture. Not necessarily from the middle, but purely by example.