A CEO of a hospital to which I consulted once asserted that how he and the managers treated the employees was important because it affected how they treated patients. Although this was years ago, it strikes me as true today as it did then. Only, it is not just in hospitals. It is in all organizations and all sectors. Employees tend to treat customers or clients as they are treated, just as civil servants are inclined to treat citizens as they are treated.
Although this dynamic is akin to the Pygmalion Effect it is more encompassing than the impact of one-on-one behavior because how people treat one another in organizations is a reflection of an organization’s culture and influences how employees treat the people they are paid to serve who are outside the organization. Culture is a combination of how people think, feel, and behave along with their underlying beliefs and values.
What kind of experience do you want your customers, clients, or residents to have when they interact with anyone in your organization? What would you want them to say about their experience? What would you not want them to say?
Presumably you’d want them to say something like, “They are really great. They asked me questions to make sure they understood what I wanted and then responded quickly. They seemed to really care about me as a person.”
If you want your customers or clients to feel like they are important to your organization, then your employees will need to feel like they too are an important part of the organization. If you want residents to collaborate with your agency on solving problems and developing policy, then civil servants need to work in a collaborative environment. It is unfair to ask them to work in an autocratic, top-down culture and then expect them to have the desire and know-how to create democratic or collaborative processes with citizens.
The experience people have with your organization requires that your employees have a similar experience within the organization. To accomplish this, I suggest the following steps.
First, define the qualities you want to characterize your culture. Because culture is a prime driver of performance, this is a necessary and significant step. As renowned psychologist and author Edgar Schein noted, “Culture determines and limits strategy.” Don’t take this step on your own. Engage lots of others in this conversation, especially the “thought leaders” in your organization.
Second, once you have defined the desired characteristics of the culture, be sure to role model them. Employees are quicker to get on board with a desired culture when managers behave congruently with it.
Third, periodically conduct a culture audit. Engage people inside your organization in assessing how well everyone is living it out. Do this through “focus groups” rather than surveys. People’s yard sticks change over time and it’s tough to measure this in a survey. Outside your organization, ask customers to describe their experience through a few questions that identify the aspects of the culture you want to assess. For example, did we respond to your inquiry in a timely manner? Did you receive the help you needed when you needed it? Did you feel cared about as a person?
When your organizational culture reflects internally what you want people’s experience to be externally, your performance as an organization improves. And, it is congruent inside and out.