Career Advice

Five Simple Truths – Nurturing Workplace Culture

A comment I hear frequently from job seekers and management alike is ‘the workplace culture just doesn’t seem right.” Inevitably, management and employees are engaging in finger pointing and not taking responsibility (or is it ownership?) for their role in making a workplace culture livable or even better – memorable.

Let‘s define workplace culture in one sentence. Workplace culture is not just the personality of the workplace and its unique employer brand, but also (at its deepest core) is about the people who work in a company, from the CEO to the employees (people hire people, right?) and how they collectively experience their colleagues and the place in which they all work.

It’s easy, as an employee, to believe that culture is the task and responsibility of management. It’s shocking for management to assign responsibility for workplace culture solely to employees, especially when the team is new or untested. And it’s typical in many organizations – startup to enterprise – to make these assumptions without ever talking to the other group. Clearly it’s a recipe for disaster.

Workplace culture is critical. You spend eight to 10 hours plus of every day with colleagues, probably far less with family and loved ones. In my view (and practice) workplace culture is a shared responsibility, but management must take the lead.

We’ve talked before about how a company’s culture attracts talent. Culture also retains talent and defines winning companies. Let’s agree that maintaining workplace culture is a shared responsibility and define the actions required of each group.

Managers and leaders:

  • Define the culture of your workplace. Is it fun? Is it no-nonsense? Is it flexible or structured? Set expectations and manage to them.
  • Running into problems, need a change? Get your story straight. You may not want to reveal every detail of the business and its exposure to risk in trying times, but tell the truth.
  • Solicit the counsel of on-the-ground leaders. You know who they are.  Make sure to test your assumptions and messaging with this critical group before taking anything company-wide.
  • Back to truth: as a certain person said, don’t try to put lipstick on a pig. If you are restructuring say why. Don’t try to pretty it up: make it clear and results-oriented. Say why it’s good for those involved. Describe what it will take to be successful.
  • It’s not about you. Remember your position as a leader; you’re supposed to take the first hit for the team. Be sure to describe everything ‘workplace’ in terms that relate to employees, not you.


  • Be part of the workplace culture. Commit. Don’t snipe and whine, buy in. It’s an all-in thing to be part of a great company.
  • Work through the on-the-ground leaders. If you have issues or concerns take them there first. Don’t go direct to top management. Line up the ducks. Be thoughtful and choose your time. Go for the big stuff and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • If there’s a hole in the workplace culture or the seams look like they are raveling, try to figure out the reason before you weigh in with demands. If you can get a fix on what’s happening you can contribute to success.
  • Give managers a break. They are managing a lot of moving pieces, not all about culture and employees.
  • Educate yourself about the market and you’ll be a better participant in workplace culture, and a more informed and constructive critic (and supporter.)

Workplace culture is a powerful tool for managers, a lodestar for employees and a source of success for companies. It can change in a heartbeat and takes constant thoughtful monitoring. It’s a competitive differentiator, and the responsibility of everyone in the organization.

Please feel free to tell us what you think.