Building Culture from the Bottom-Up



The word ‘culture’ comes from the Latin root cultus meaning ‘to care’. Sadly, only 9% of employees worldwide have a positive view of their companies’ culture. And 15% of managers and executives viewed their culture favourably, with increasing levels of satisfaction with the culture at higher levels of the hierarchy.


Despite the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic, there are companies where people are happy, engaged, and productive. On the other hand, even before Covid-19 struck, companies such as KraftHeinz were known as toxic places to work at and people could not wait to get out fast enough from there.


It is easy to blame leaders and managers for a poor organizational culture. However, organizational culture is not a fixed entity. In the words of author Daniel Coyle, “Culture is not something you are. It is something you do.”


The three major aspects that are within each individual’s control to build culture are:


1. Build a sense of psychological safety: By being inclusive towards other people and ensuring that everyone on the team feels a sense of comfort in voicing their ideas and thoughts, you can help other team members in bringing their whole and best selves to work. Encourage people to embrace their vulnerability and to be authentic around each other.

Display moral courage to call out and seek help in case anyone is being victimized or discriminated against.


2. Nurture belongingness: Research indicates that having friends at work improves engagement levels and performance. If you can make other people feel like they belong, the workplace will become much better to work at. And irrespective of the overall culture of the organization, your own team can have a ‘microculture’ where people feel a sense of belonging and bonding.


3. Create a shared purpose: Whether it is team meetings or team deliverables, ensure that your colleagues and you are clear about the ‘why’ of what you are doing. Define your ‘ways of working’ to set protocols that everyone is comfortable with, around team meetings, deliverables, coaching and mentoring, and the way things are done in the team. If you see anything that prevents you from delivering the right value to your customers (internal or external), demand to see change. For example, Zappos’ use of the concept of holacracy means people manage their own time and their own work output as well, and the resulting autonomy has improved employee happiness as well as quality of output created.


It certainly helps if the leadership of an organization works to drive organization culture and to link it to the vision and mission as well as organizational strategy. However, through a bottom-up approach, every individual can influence and improve the culture that they work in and make work more fun and rewarding. So, are you ready?


Sumit Singla Founder of eleventHR Consulting. ​ Sumit has been working in HR & HR consulting roles for 16+ years across sectors and verticals and specializes in organization design, wellbeing, storytelling & design thinking, and performance management. In his career with consulting firms such as Aon, Deloitte, and Accenture, he has successfully led programs aimed at total HR transformation for clients. Recently, as Associate Director for India Consulting at Deloitte, he worked with clients on cultural transformation and HR process and policy design. He also organized and spoke at conferences and events about a variety of topics relevant to HR today. Now self-employed, he works with clients across the globe on a variety of HR solution areas.


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