Last updated: March 4, 2019

Like many of you, I have many business and personal interests. I’m an avid researcher into strategy effectiveness, a mental health advocate for change within business, an observer of team dynamics and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring my own leadership traits, attitudes, perceptions and responses in the work environment.

I’ve been wondering for many years why some organizations can develop strong, effective teams and a culture that achieves both serious business outcomes and has a great deal of fun doing it. I’ve also thought a great deal about the secret sauce of best places to work.

Five years ago, I started to consistently take note of patterns in organizations around morale, competitive advantage, openness, comfortable work environments and employee engagement. I then started studying trust, leadership behaviour, company culture and productivity. This came after many years of working with companies and leaders in many sectors, and over many consulting engagements.  My work focused on strategy and goal development, analyzing competitive landscapes and the factors influencing customer needs and buying patterns – all still critical strategy work for leaders.

However, I see the need for a pivot. I believe a leader’s focus and attention needs to shift from the outside to the inside.

The early 2000s was an era focused on the customer. Companies dug deep into the focus; it wasn’t too hard, it made perfect sense and we did it for decades. Much of the ‘inside’ work was directed at serving the customer. Todays volatile business environment demands something different. The top companies in the world focus on their culture as their best competitive advantage, along with knowing their customers and developing great products. This means it is all about your employees, innovation and agility (managing change and helping employees cope with change).

What does this mean? It means leading with emotional intelligence, widening perspectives and analyzing things differently; managing not just with your intellect, but with even greater empathy, understanding and caring. It also means realizing emotions; people’s true reactions and feelings about leaders and their company decisions.

You might be saying “my employees and team members have always mattered!”, or “what the heck – leave your emotions at home, this is a place of work and productivity!”

I think it’s always been easier for many of us to push emotional responses aside in favour of valuing intellect and technical competency in organizations. It seems less messy when we can easily measure and manage a competency, and technical has been at the forefront over emotional intelligence and competency for a very long time.

There is great opportunity in this brave new world for leaders who want to strengthen their competitive advantage. But to take advantage of it, we need to address a problem in our workplaces – and the numbers don’t lie.

Collectively, we have a problem in workplace culture. A Morneau Shepell study released by the Canadian Mental Health Commission in 2018 cited workplace stress as a top cause of illness. Mental health statistics are worsening, and workplace trust and company morale is at an all-time low. According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 33,000 people from 28 countries and supported by the annual Trust Index©, employee survey results compiled by the Great Places to Work Institute states workplace trust is in crisis. The results hit both across and up and down the organization. Peer to Peer trust is the only area that fares better, and this level of trust has a direct impact on organizational culture.

Give yourself a quick internal check. How much time have you dedicated to thinking about trust, mutual respect and what constitutes a positive work culture? Does your organization respect alternative opinions? Do you sometimes see supervisors discouraging questioning in the workplace? Do you think about culture as a problem to be solved or a modern-day business function? What do you know about the relationship between a positive culture and productivity?

There are many reasons that impact the workplace results above, and why some organizations are in a much better place than others. There are both bottom line and human reasons to care deeply about trust and its significant connection to leadership and your company culture.

What are your thoughts on company culture, and how leaders can effectively manage it?

Kim MacDonald, Strategist and Change Facilitator
MacDonald & Associates

Kim has been helping leaders manage change and growth for 20 years. She has worked in 17 industry sectors providing consulting, strategic business planning services, market expansion and brand development services. She holds an MBA from Saint Mary’s University and a degree in Public Relations from Mount St. Vincent University. She has taught at both the university and community college level and is completing her adult education certification at Dalhousie where she’s developing a unique leadership training program based on strategy development, organizational culture and competitive advantage.