It was during the keynote presentation I was giving at a conference that I had an “Aha” moment. I was discussing culture and how every workplace has one. The audience understood the information but I knew it wasn’t being embedded into their psyche. At the time I didn’t realize that the information I was sharing needed to be anchored to something more common, more routine.
So I told a story—one with an underlying message that had profoundly affected me.
It was during a family function at my sister’s home that my nephew walked through the door with a couple of friends. He was gracious in introducing his friends to all of us, and when he got to his parents he announced, “We were studying together and they had no plans so I invited them here.” My sister and brother in-law welcomed these two young adults to their home like they were family.
Through the eyes of some adults in the room, this situation was unusual. My nephew did not seek permission in advance, it was a family event. We were already straining to seat 26 people at the table and was there enough food?
My elderly parents made the comment to each other: “They always have ‘scroungers’ in their home.”
Later in the afternoon I pursued the matter with my nephew saying, “it’s interesting how cool your parents are with you bringing friends home unannounced.”
He hesitated. Clearly he had never pondered his actions yet he knew his actions were condoned. “We’re always allowed to bring friends home,” he said. My sister later explained that her family defines friends as having the same values as them so when her children bring home friends, they are like family. My nephew continued, “That’s why I love my family so much. I’m very lucky. I never have to hide anything from my parents and when I bring friends home, and to family events, you guys treat them like family. It’s great!” He radiated a smile of sincerity.
It was later that I realized that the culture of family is like the culture at work. Those within the environment create it, intentionally or not. Now I understand why the pantry and freezer are always full at my nephew’s home, and the purpose of so many extra pillows and blankets.
There are even small presents on hand to accommodate “drop-ins” during a gift-giving event. It is all to support the culture of friends being welcome, sometimes for days on end. It is a safe, loving, all-inclusive environment that makes everyone welcome. But not everyone can do it.
Quite a few adults in the room that day, myself included, would not embrace this type of home culture, that is the beauty of this example. Culture is as unique as each individual. There is no wrong or right culture, but for it to succeed, it must be supported by belief and with appropriate resources.
The indicators of a successful work culture are clear. The people who work there love the environment just like my nephew loves his family. It is transparent and encapsulates a feeling of belonging, both for those living it and those visiting. It is also able to retain the members of the environment—employees are engaged and are willing to work there for the long-term. And to my sister and brother-in-law’s delight, their children are happy living at home and desire to live there longer.
Dear readers, how many of you reflect back on your childhood home life and recall the desire to hightail it as soon as you could?
If you are uncertain what your culture is at work, then look at your culture at home. Define it as best as possible: describe your response to guests that are planned for and those who are unexpected, think about who you invite to your home and when you invite them. What do they say about your environment, and the food you provide, if any? The answers to these questions will help you see your culture as it really is.
As we move into and embrace this new world of work we understand that culture has always been a part of our work environment. Now that we are smarter about these things, we can shape what it is that we want to create.