Five guaranteed ways to fix a negative culture, motivate your staff and improve outcomes!

Five guaranteed ways to fix a negative culture, motivate your staff and improve outcomes!


Five? At least.

Guaranteed? Absolutely not.

The headline is nonsense. If you want to make your organisation a better place to work and improve outcomes, there are no guarantees, no sure fire ways to get results, no magic bullets. There are, however, a few things you can do to make things easier.

Accept complexity, but don’t add to it.

Change is complicated because organisations are complicated. And organisations are complicated because people are complicated.

Most issues in most organisations are caused by people. We’re all a messy bundle of hopes, anxieties, stresses, excitement, fears and neuroses caused by our upbringing, our family, our job, our home, politics, the weather and a billion other things. To be honest it’s a miracle we’re able to function at all. Individually, we are all more than capable of cocking something up. Put two or more people in a room and it’s no wonder things can get messy.

Anything you can do to reduce complexity is a positive. Don’t write a 100 page document, if a 3 page document is enough. Don’t have 8 levels of hierarchy in your organisation, if 4 is enough.

For years as a participation youth worker, I tried to get politicians, and council officers to understand, that if your meeting is too boring or technical for young people to participate in effectively, then it’s probably too boring or technical for adults to participate in effectively. Why have a single 2 hour meeting, when we can have multiple 3 hour meetings (*cough* NHS *cough*)

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You know all those people sat at your meeting looking intently at laptops and tablets. I guarantee they’re not all looking at the agenda, or reading the report you’re discussing.

They’re checking their email, rearranging their calendar, or tweeting using #bored.

Culture can be random, sticky and weird.

Cultures are created by groups of people every day. This happens on a macro scale across nations, and on a micro scale within small groups of people.  

Ask your colleague about what their family did at Christmas when they were a kid. There will almost certainly be something that you think is weird.

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  • They opened a present on Christmas eve? Odd.
  • They had beef instead of turkey? Strange.
  • They all dressed in loud Christmas jumpers and sang carols? The horror!

And if they have kids, I bet they do the same things with them.

Most office cultures are harmless, and many are positive, but when they become negative, they can wreck an organisation.

At work, how many times have you heard ‘we’ve always done it that way’? Breaking a negative organisational culture can be especially hard. Encouraging people to use a new piece of software or trying to get them to stop forcing people to bring in cakes for their own birthdays (it’s my birthday, why am I buying the cake!?!) is difficult and needs time, planning and a clear purpose. Ask yourself, and your colleagues ‘Why are we doing this?’ ‘What is our ultimate goal?’. Use the vision and mission you had so many meetings writing and re-writing.

Focus on the end result but don’t forget to bring people with you.

Exclusion is the worst!

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Feeling like you’ve been left out of something, that your opinion isn’t valued, or that your hard earned expertise isn’t recognised, is horrible.

No one wants to be the last kid picked at PE. Nothing is guaranteed to demotivate staff and bugger up your retention rate than not including the people you work with.

Trust the people you work with – if your staff are good enough to be working for your organisation, they’re good enough to be brought on board. If they’re not or you can’t trust them, then either they (or you) probably shouldn’t be working there (this may be a slight exaggeration).

So here are my five absolutely not guaranteed ways to make life easier for everyone:

  1. Accept that people are complicated: Recognise that humans are humans – understand their foibles, forgive their mistakes and try to help each other out.
  2. Involve people: Being left out or being told what to do without a good reason is guaranteed to upset people. Don’t do it. Ask their opinion, use their experience, take their thoughts on board.
  3. Focus on the objective: This is easier said than done., but try to be clear about what your organisation or team wants to achieve. Make sure everyone agrees, or at least, understands.
  4. Cultural change takes time: Processes and policies are easy. Technology is easy. Getting people to use them is hard and takes time.
  5. Keep things simple: No, really…S…I…M…P…L…E. Most people only ever read the exec summary. If your meeting happens every month and has 300 pages of reports, no one has the time to read them all in detail, so what’s the point?

And don’t believe click bait headlines!

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