Be the Change You Wish to See... in the Workplace

Thursday 21 June 2018

Article by Matthew Mooney


"Be the change you wish to see in this world" is a lovely sentiment and a lofty goal which we should unequivocally strive for.  It's a bumper sticker classic and you've no doubt seen it as you've scrolled unashamedly through the profile of moderately successful social media influencers.  We often attribute this quote to Gandhi, however, what he actually said was (unsurprisingly) more profound and helpfully, somewhat prescriptive.  "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do".  Fortuitously, Gandhi’s actual quote is entirely applicable to the NEXT: Network for Future Leader’s focus for July: ‘How to Impact Workplace Culture’.  For him, personal transformation and social transformation are interlinked, and the same can be said for the transformation of the employee and the workplace.

What is Workplace Culture?

The literature will tell you that workplace culture is the character and personality of an organisation.  It's the values, principles, beliefs and behaviours that make an organisation unique.  From reading that explanation, you can see that the notion of workplace culture is a hard one to pin down: it's vague, abstract and most probably something completely different depending on who you ask.  For me, I think workplace culture is best summed up as the vibe of the place, a vibe emanating from and guided by the people within that workplace.

Why is it Important to Encourage a Positive Workplace Culture?

Characterising workplace culture as the "vibe of a place" is helpful in the sense that it recognises workplace culture as something that is ever-present and undeniable.  This omnipresence is exactly the reason why it is so important that our workplace culture is a positive one.  There's a growing body of research that shows that a positive workplace culture can increase productivity and performance and improve the overall wellbeing of employees (check out this article) .  Alternatively, a negative culture, rife with bullying, unpleasantries and incivility can lead to decreased productivity accompanied by workplace stress which can result in mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.  In fact, the American Psychological Association estimates that 60% - 80% of workplace accidents are caused by workplace stress and more than 80% of visits to the doctor are stress related.

As young professionals, many of us spend most of our waking hours in the workplace so it's crucial that we do our best to create a positive workplace culture.

How Can we Influence Workplace Culture?

Aren't we just cogs in the machine? Worker bees collecting that sweet, sweet nectar for the queen bee?  Change in workplace culture can only come from the top, right?  Wrong.  As I mentioned earlier, workplace culture is about the vibe and at the core is the people and any one of those people can have a meaningful impact on workplace culture.

There are many ways in which we, as young professionals, can influence our own workplaces for the better but here I've picked out a few that I truly believe anyone, regardless of where they sit in a hierarchy, can employ and implement.

1. Leading by Example: this has to be one of the most effective ways in which to impact workplace culture as you probably have more influence on the behaviours of others than you realise.  Natural leaders aren't always the boss.  The boss may be in his or her position now simply because they stuck around long enough, not because they were born to lead.  Set an example for others to follow: be passionate, confident and dedicated in how you approach your day to day, and whether they want to admit it or not, others will be inspired which could then lead to change.  Passion, confidence and dedication are contagious!

2. Big Wins and Small Victories: recognising the good work of others is important for influencing the positivity of those around you.  Sometimes I get the feeling that way too much emphasis is placed on providing "constructive criticism".  Constructive criticism certainly has its place, but we can't forget about sharing positive feedback, recognising the big wins and the small victories.  It makes people feel appreciated and they understand that their contributions are meaningful.  Simple things like sending follow-up thank you emails or throwing out a "wow, I liked the way you handled that!" (when appropriate) can go a long way to making someone feel worthwhile and generally promoting an atmosphere of positivity.

3. Be Authentic: office politics, social climbing and the cloak and dagger that inevitably ensues is a recipe for a negative workplace culture.  By being open and transparent about our emotions, intentions and expectations we encourage an open dialogue and enliven feelings of trust which is then often reciprocated by others.  Imagine you've been really excited about working on a particular project but when your manager allocates the work, she gives it to Trevor.  Obviously you're disappointed, but (for the purposes of my analogy) you've got two options: (1) bottle-up your disappointment, brood indefinitely and cultivate some negative feelings about your manager and maybe even poor old Trev; or, alternatively (2) realise that you hadn't been very open about your desire to work on the project, let your manager know that that's the kind of work that you're interested in, and maybe offer your help to Trev.  Now that your manager knows how you feel, she may keep it in mind for the future or better yet, she may start to consider people's preferences when allocating projects.  Your openness and transparency here may be the catalyst for broader change within your workplace.

In summing up, it's Gandhi, it's the people, and yeah, it's the vibe.

If you are a young professional with an interest in, or connection to the United States of America, we’d love to connect you with other like-minded, ambitious individuals. Visit our LinkedIn page so you don’t miss our next event. 

Written by Matthew Mooney, Associate, Baker McKenzie 

Matthew Mooney is a member of AmCham NSW’s NEXT Committee. Matthew is also an Associate at AmCham member company Baker McKenzie.



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