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COMPANY CULTURE

Bad Culture Impacts All Organizations
 

If even institutions with a higher "calling"—like those in healthcare, education, and religion—are bad at engaging employees, what can you do about it?

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Bad culture impacts industries with a calling, too, like healthcare, education, and places of worship. If it can happen there, what kind of impact could it have on you?

When it comes to culture struggles, the business world isn't alone. If you wind up in the hospital, have kids in school, or spend time at a house of worship, this is impacting you there, too. Guaranteed.

Since my letter to Tom Horton regarding the airline industry, I've been reflecting on what I've learned about other industries, especially those that one might say have a "calling" to them. And I've found that while there are institutions that are by definition based on providing service to others, they are not immune from the same types of internal culture and employee engagement issues the rest of us deal with. 

I used to think that nurses, teachers, and church employees somehow had it easier because they were drawn, by a calling, to service.  But I couldn't have been more wrong.  As a matter of fact, some of these institutions are worse than many traditional businesses I've seen.

Here three industries that need to tie culture to the side of their "calling" to get back to what they're supposed to do best: serve people. 

Healthcare

I work in the healthcare industry. I interact with all levels of employees in hospital organizations. And one of the greatest challenges I see is that the people in it are inherently siloed based on skills, academic credentials, and roles. From the doctoral educated (who I believe were rarely challenged) to the nursing staff (that thrives on knowledge and compassion) to administrators (who are chasing a bottom line), they're all in the same place, and asked to work together to serve someone that doesn't even want to be the customer. The old mantra was: You build it, and they will come.  But the world has changed.  Now consumers have choices, and they are making them.  Culture has come to healthcare, because it is finally becoming a business where service makes a difference.  And the only way to create a service culture is to build engagement in the workforce. 

I recently interviewed a hospital CEO who told me that he hadn't done an employee engagement survey in several years.  He was concerned about what he could do to improve the environment once he saw the results!  But if we don't have the courage to ask our employees and baseline our current position, we have little hope of improving their engagement. 

Education

According to the National Education Association, 50 percent of new teachers quit in the first five years. Why? Because after grading papers, answering to assessment tests, developing lesson plans, taking continuing education classes, and coordinating parent conferences, a "calling" just isn't enough to fuel the tank. But a systematic program that shows appreciation for the difficulties of the profession and provides the training teachers need to engage a classroom will give teachers a chance. Realize that committing to culture will keep people from writing things like the excerpt below from an email I received recently from a male teacher from Texas:

"…I have been victim of many speeches from the soapbox that demand better performance from teachers since we are here for 'the kids'. Well yea, duh. Most every teacher is in the profession for some kind of intrinsic purpose. But that alone does not supply the tools, environment, and culture needed to be shining examples of success, progress, and mission accomplishment. It's almost been clearly stated by administrators that they aren't here to 'baby' employees and make them feel good. 'We're here because of kids.' Now I'm no baby, but I am very self-aware and am capable of giving very direct feedback of the interactions and environments that I interact with. Within these schools and within this district is a nebulous lack of support to employees. (A recent poll on our campus, 80 percent disagreed—'I enjoy coming to work.') This is a problem…"

A calling isn't a replacement for culture.

Places of Worship

When it comes to organizations with a "calling," there's none that identify more than a house of worship. Unfortunately a cross, star, or crescent moon isn't immunity against the culture ills that are typically encountered in the business world. And that's a high-risk proposition with the amount of faith that the customer genuinely puts into the religious service and product.

A neighbor of mine had been struggling with unmotivated employees at the church she attended, and knowing my passion for the topic, asked if I could help out. I sent our culture director (the queen of fun and laughter—yes, that's her title) to spend the day with the church leadership. A little while later I got a call from my neighbor who said (paraphrased), "We got so consumed in our mission, that we didn't have anything in place to care and support for each other. Faith is enough to get you through a lot of things, but I don't think it's enough to get you through the business of worship!"

So why did I think it's important to talk briefly about culture in three very big "industries" on Inc.com, the site for entrepreneurs? Because culture touches everything.  And these places are businesses too, with the same problems we have.  If a bad culture can have such a dramatic effect on jobs that people are driven to on philosophical and spiritual levels, what kind of effect can it have on yours?

Last updated: Jan 18, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.
@paulspiegelman




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