In terms of personality and contribution to workforce culture, the notional view of those involved in aged care is that the employees are caring, and that the leaders are encouraging, warm individuals who have ‘been there, done that’. The resulting culture, given the high level of care required for many residents and home-care recipients, should therefore be a caring, sharing culture.
But is that so?
Workforce culture is driven predominantly by its leaders and their approach to managing the environment in which people work. For example, a leader who is a perfectionist may be seen to be competent and even action-oriented, but is also likely to be seen as indifferent and unfeeling – chances are they will have a preference for getting things done ‘the right way’ rather than canvassing opinions. Considered in isolation, this approach may create an environment where some people respond by distancing themselves from the leader, losing the ability to communicate easily and making it difficult for themselves to be clearly understood.
Not necessarily at the other end of the scale, but certainly of a different workplace cultural influence, consider a leader who leads because they are liked by others and are seen to be friendly and open. In isolation of other factors, such a leader may well generate an environment where people act in a manner where they do things to be liked, and they become upset if they perceive they are not accepted by others.
Workplace culture is, of course, not described by one or two elements of a single leader’s behavioural range, and the reaction of people to those behaviours. It is an amalgam of reactions of all staff to a number of leader’s behaviours and is developed and embedded over time.
An international agency for the Pacific Islands which works with Pacific leaders to develop and sustain policies and governance in the Pacific in order to sustain a liveable future is a case in point. Their leader many years ago, was an affable and smart Australian steeped in the ways of the Pacific based on his own heritage and that of his wife. His approach was one of inclusion, often holding morning teas to exchange information with a vertical slice of his subordinates. He was a source of information for them about what was happening to the agency and where its immediate and long term future lay. They were sources of information for him about how the agency was performing and what the key issues were that needed addressing. He was well-respected for his ability to engage at all levels, from the gardeners to the most senior country leaders and diplomats. He was also well-respected for his ability to achieve an outcome without the necessity of purity of process. He was unafraid of conflict and, being a good mediator, did not shy away from it.
When he moved on from his position, he was replaced by an official more interested in the process of relationships than the actual relationship itself, and more interested in avoiding conflict than getting a result.
The culture of the agency went from inclusive and action-oriented to silo-based and procedural. The outcomes it drove declined even as its output increased.
In an aged care environment, the culture of the organisation has an impact not only on the welfare of staff, retention rates, and the levels of discretionary effort applied, but also the direct welfare of clients who rely on the treatment by staff and the level of service offered for much of their sense of wellbeing.
A model for measuring culture
A model for assessing culture quantitatively is the organisational culture inventory by Human Synergistics, based on original research by Robert Cooke and J Clayton Lafferty.
The organisational cultural inventory (OCI) suggests that in an organisation, people may be driven by three behavioural styles to fit the ‘norm’.
Figure 1: The OCI – three clusters of behavioural styles from Organisational Culture Inventory by Robert A. Cooke, PhD and J. Clayton Lafferty, PhD, 1983, 1987, 1989, Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics. Copyright (c) 1987, 1989 by Human Synergistics, Inc.
The three styles may be evident concurrently. The preferred style is constructive.
Each of the three styles may be more prominent based on age profile, occupation, experience, organisational hierarchy or team membership.
Dependent on the dominant behavioural style, individual outcomes with regard to role clarity, role conflict, motivation, satisfaction, job insecurity, stress and intention to stay will change enormously.
Organisationally the dominant behaviour affects the quality of deliverables, inter-departmental cooperation, and external adaptability to external events.
The importance of culture
According to HBO CEO and Chairman Richard Plepler, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
“The work environment that we create has to be transparent and you have to be able to brook dissent,” he continues. “Everyone can say what’s on their mind and once we make a choice, everyone is behind it. Someone once said to me, ‘You made the room safe to talk.’ And I said, ‘If you want to win, what other way is there to be?'”
What to do about culture
Culture can be changed.
It requires a consistent, insistent, and persistent approach by leaders. It requires them to set goals for the organisation and empower others to set objectives for themselves and their staff consistent with the organisation goal and objectives so that each individual has a purpose.
It requires clear two-way communication, and the creation of an atmosphere where dissent is not only tolerated but encouraged.
It requires leaders to be consistent in their application of policies and process whilst maintaining a clear eye on the outcomes required to achieve the goals of the organisation, rather than a singular focus on the outputs. It requires appropriate metrics and measures to give guidance on what is really important, and to enable continuous improvement on the road to achieving the organisational goal and objectives.
It requires hiring and firing of people such that the core team of people exhibiting the desired cultured especially amongst the leaders continues to grow until it reaches critical mass.
Take a look at the diagram above and see if you can identify which cluster of behavioural styles is dominant in your organisational culture. If it’s not the one you want, what are you going to do tomorrow to start changing it?