Build the Culture You’ve Always Wanted With Priorities, Habits, and Systems


We hear a lot about low employee engagement, toxic workplaces, and how detrimental negative influences can be to organizations. Many companies have tried to address this with perks like ping pong tables, free snacks, and happy hours. Like so many initiatives however, these are often just Band-Aids that last as long as the adhesive does, and don’t bring long term culture change.

In fact, a new report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates that toxic cultures have driven 20% of employees from their jobs in the past five years—amounting to a staggering turnover cost of $223 billion.

What makes the difference is when leaders commit not to just making these problems important to solve, but actively supporting them with structures that encourage long-term change. That’s where we believe that Priorities, Habits, and Systems (PHS) come in to play in changing cultures.

How PHS works

It’s easy to say something is a priority. You know it’s important to be inclusive of others, for example. So, you commit to making it a priority in your everyday activities. Does having the feeling and even stating it magically make it happen? We know the answer.

Many companies have made these commitments and yet turnover is still an issue. Executives scratch their heads and wonder what else they can do to keep employees happily productive. Can finding that certain something stem the tide of attrition?

Not likely. What we need is action. Start by examining what you do automatically. Do you reach out to others for their input on decisions? Invite everyone on the team for coffee? Our brains don’t adapt to a lot of change at once, so we recommend making one small change at a time. Then, once that one becomes automatic, make another one. This is how true behavior change happens.

Changing habits is difficult. It can be easier if there are processes in place that support them. Back to the inclusion example…say that you want to have a specific group of people on a project. Imagine if you had to always add people one by one to a discussion. How likely would you be to sometimes forget someone? Thankfully we have systems in place – we can create an email list or group chat that includes everyone automatically. Even a simple system can allow us to make our priorities and habits easier to apply.

Making games work

So, you don’t need to get rid of the ping pong table. Perks like these can be helpful to build teamwork and add fun. Maybe provide ways for it to promote interaction—encourage practice sessions, invite everyone to play, get advanced players to mentor beginners, hold team tournaments, celebrate progress as well as wins, and link it to organization goals.

This simple example can go a long way towards building a more positive culture, one where you don’t just make something a priority but support it with solid habits and systems.

Author: Trish Ward

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