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Culture Vultures & Heroes

In our latest podcast episode, we look at what work culture is really all about, why a good operating climate is necessary for a successful business and the well-being of its staff, what you can do to influence this, and what is not okay. Understanding what makes your environment a great place to be and to work is an essential part of managing and leading others successfully.

Workplace cultures

We’ve all experienced different workplace cultures. Here at noodle, we are no different, so we thought it might be interesting to share our previous experiences of the cultures of some of the organisations where we worked in the past. For example, there was a large organisation which brought in a new CEO who said, “I don’t believe in culture. Don’t speak to me about culture, I don’t even want to hear the word. Everybody is responsible for themselves. There is no such thing as workplace culture.”

Well, if you’re a member of the team which is responsible for nurturing a good workplace culture, such an attitude spells bad news. And it wasn’t too long before the business ran into trouble. Was this the fault of the new CEO’s attitude towards workplace culture? Probably not entirely, but it would have been a contributory factor. But when a new CEO came in and appointed a ‘head of culture’, things started to improve again.

Some businesses pay more attention to workplace culture than others, but there is no doubt that it can play a huge role in the psychological well-being of staff, as well as the overall success of the business.

Setting the tone

It's up to the managers to set the tone. One of our previous experiences was with a manager whose infectious ‘can do’ attitude constantly challenged and encouraged his staff to be imaginative and creative in the work they produced. Another was of a manager in a bank whose positive, future-oriented outlook meant that she was more interested in looking forward and finding solutions than looking back at where responsibility lay. If there was a problem, she wasn’t about apportioning blame, finding fault or finger-pointing. It was always, “How do we fix this?” and “Where do we go from here?”.

Standards of behaviour

But the way managers behave and their attitudes towards their colleagues can also have a negative effect on the workforce. We have seen a company struggling with its workplace culture because some of the managers were having intimate relationships with their juniors. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, but if, as a leader, you want to demonstrate a certain level of professionalism, you also have to consider your standards of behaviour and the examples that these set. Because the behaviour of the manager, good or bad, will indicate the company culture and affect the rest of the staff.

Culture of fear

Another organisation liked to portray itself as having strong company values. The values were on posters everywhere in the building; beside the photocopier, on the backs of toilet doors, lining the corridors. But this didn’t translate down to the way people were being valued and treated. All it did was promote a culture of fear. The company valued its financial success so much that each year 10% of the staff – the lowest performing – would be sacked. So everyone was looking over their shoulders and competing with each other in an unhealthy way, always with the thought in their minds that, “It’s them or me”. To motivate people, the man at the top had a favourite catchphrase. “We need to execute, execute, execute!” he would say. But, especially with the obvious double meaning, all this actively reinforced the culture of fear. The values displayed on the posters were not the reality for the people on the ground.

Well-being, or the bottom line?

For many companies, the workplace culture is all wrapped up in measurements of financial success. They may claim that the customer experience is really important when, at the end of the day, all that matters is the bottom line. And if financial success and hitting targets is the essence of the company culture, this will drive the behaviours of the managers and staff. Is there a problem with the product? Never mind, we have to hit our targets. Is it difficult for customers to get in touch, make a complaint or return? Just as well, as it would affect the numbers. This is where only focussing on the bottom line can lead to real problems. What about the well-being of the staff? How do they feel, working in such a climate?

Fitting in, or standing out

Another problematic area we have experienced is when a small company experiences growth. As a result, the company believes it needs to recruit new staff and bed them into a certain, long-standing culture.

We have seen a particular family business expand but struggle to bed in new staff. The company was run in a certain way, by a man who liked to lead by example. Most of the staff were family, and it had been a generally harmonious environment. But there was a certain amount of prickliness between the new staff and the longer-serving members of the team. The new staff felt the need to prove themselves and wanted to do things a bit differently. There was a certain amount of ‘throwing people under the bus’.

The leader complained that he couldn’t recruit the "right people", but how much was this his own failure in the recruitment process? Perhaps the personal values of some of the new staff were at odds with the organisational values of the company. Did he just assume that the new people would be collaborative, congenial and want to ‘fit in’? Should he have had a values-based conversation about the company culture during the interview process? Could he have made more of an effort to make them feel as welcome and valued as the long-term staff? Were the new recruits walking into a situation which was markedly different from what they had been led to expect?

Mind the gap

As a manager, it’s important to be mindful of the gap between where you are currently and where you want to be. You can’t change everything all at once. You’re not the ‘culture police’. When you’re making changes in organisational values, it’s only natural that you will meet some resistance. Change works best when managers show patience and respect for the fact that they may be asking people to change long-held working practices. It can be like turning a super tanker. You can do it, but you can’t always do it in a hurry.

Relevant noodles

Find out more about how to understand what’s going on, what’s important to your people and shaping a great team culture at theaccidentalmanager.

Several of our noodles are relevant to discussions around workplace culture, such as we have focussed on today.

· Engagement Staircase is all about understanding how clear you are in your own mind about your ambitions and aspirations.

· Values touches on how your personal values (e.g. fairness and integrity) may differ from those of the organisation you are working for (e.g. make a big profit, win at all costs).

· Unwritten Ground Rules looks at some of the accepted modes of behaviour in any given workplace that someone coming in cold wouldn’t necessarily know about.

· Trust Equation asks you to consider how safe you feel in terms of being able to speak out in your workplace.

· The Accountability Ladder and Change Type also touch on some of the topics discussed here.

The concept of unwritten ground rules we mention in this episode can be explored further here and we credit: Cracking the Corporate Culture Code Unwritten Ground Rules by Steve Simpson.

Join the chat at and follow us on Instagram for daily snippets @noodle_space

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