We can sometimes feel as though culture is for someone else to solve. And many leaders believe they can’t create the culture they would love without changes in the wider organisation or at the top. This actually isn’t reality. So how do our leaders build higher-performing cultures from the middle of the organisation, and lead authentically?
Building positive workplace cultures
Have you heard of ‘microclimates’? A microclimate exists in the geographic sense as highly unique and different, thriving within the wider climate. It is not resisting the wider climate, it just is. Any leader can create their own microclimate with their team, with just two key ingredients:
Microclimates exist because of conditions. In geographic microclimates, this might be temperature, or topology. In the world of organisations, this is about clarity and behaviour. Having clear priorities, making decisions and setting direction enable momentum. Creating the space and expectation for others to be creative, collaborate and deliver adds to these highly favourable conditions for positive culture.
Ingredient #1 is only possible when a leader stands in their own personal agency and owns what they can control. Changing the culture of an entire organisation is simply not possible when you don’t own the behaviours of others, or the decision-making levers across the wider system. But owning the aspects you can control – however small – is what any leader is accountable for.
The incredible thing about microclimates, is that sometimes the conditions can multiply and move beyond the boundaries of a particular leader’s team.
If a microclimate culture is genuinely felt by all, that team will be highly productive, motivated, and will achieve incredible outcomes. Others will start to notice, watch and they too will want to join the party – started simply by one leader standing in their own truth and taking accountability for what they could control.
We can’t engage others, but we can create the conditions for others to engage themselves. We can’t change culture, but we can be accountable for standing in our truth as a leader. This will create the conditions for culture to shift.
So how can people professionals help?
Lead this way yourself. Build a microclimate of highly engaged, clearly focused colleagues, creating a positive oasis in your organisation which attracts others.
Hold leaders accountable. Coach every leader in respect of the two simple jobs they have to do: Create clarity and embody behaviours of trust, listening and positivity.
Spread best practice Focus on where the positive microclimates exist alongside high performance, rather than concentrating on the problems. Focusing on what we want, rather than what we don’t want, makes a difference.
So how are you helping to practically build microclimates of thriving cultures in your organisation?
As the famous quote from Margaret Mead says: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Paula Leach is former chief people officer at The Home Office and global chief people Officer at FDM Group.