If you dread going to work every day, you may have a company culture problem. But you’re more powerful than you think. Here’s how to create change — even if you’re not in charge.
If you feel like it’s been a long week and it’s only Tuesday, your company might have a culture problem.
If your company says it values teamwork, but runs a grown-up version of The Hunger Games, you might have a culture problem.
If your coworkers spend more time trolling LinkedIn for better job opportunities than doing actual work… well, you get the idea.
A rancid company culture can manifest itself in many ways, from dysfunctional processes to ineffective communication structures. Any one of these is a sign it’s time for a change.
You probably have some great ideas for making things better (free donuts, anyone?), and you don’t need to be in charge to change from within.
You’re more powerful than you think
Most often, people within an organization have a bigger impact than they realize. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hogwarts is terrorized by Professor Umbridge, who refuses to teach spells in Defense Against the Dark Arts class. What do Harry, Ron, and Hermione do? They start a club to learn how to defend themselves and teach other students.
You don’t have to start your own version of Dumbledore’s Army to make a difference. You’re the one at the heart of the work, which means the passion, creativity and motivation for change can stem from you. ( to tweet this quote.)
As the public face of the company, it’s in management’s best interest to keep you happy. You make the sales and interact with customers every day, so if you’re off-message, the company’s in trouble.
Employees are also powerful when organized. The advent of the organized labor movement led to eight-hour workdays, paid lunch breaks and other conditions considered standard practice today.
By consciously adopting a different way of doing things, you can change company culture. The reason employees have this power (whether they realize it or not) is because their day-to-day behavior drives company performance.
Your actions don’t have to be extreme to be effective. You can launch small initiatives, like a company recycling program, lunch outings or staff appreciation days. These changes don’t make headlines, but they can improve morale, boost productivity and increase employee engagement — which all contribute to the bottom line.
You can shape the way your organization does business, but it takes time to make it stick. Here are five ways you can initiate change in your company culture (without undermining your leaders):
1. Provide constructive feedback
Let people know how their behavior affects others. People are sometimes oblivious to the impact of their actions. Propose alternatives, consider how your suggestions will affect all levels of the organization and know that not everyone may agree.
2. Acknowledge misalignments
You’ll never win people over by attacking and criticizing them — even if they do suck at communicating. , but do so in a way that doesn’t put people on the defensive. Nobody likes to be attacked or put down, and your supervisor won’t appreciate these “contributions.”
3. Lead by example
Don’t wait for company-wide policies to change — or worse, succumb to the norm and perpetuate the problem. For example, if you want to improve communication between departments, become the model for it. Find a more efficient process for everyone, and get the change started.
4. Experiment and reflect
Look for small, low-risk situations where you can innovate and make mistakes. Try an online scheduling tool and prove how much time it saves. If people like the results, management will likely adopt it.
One of our associates developed a better way to analyze the qualitative data we collect for clients. His new approach added value by increasing the depth of our analysis, so we adopted it. The people closest to the issue usually have figured out how to do it better, but many times, they feel it’s not their place to speak up or fear their supervisor may disapprove.
Do whatever you can to enhance your manager’s effectiveness. Learn her communication style. Work around her weaknesses, and complement her strengths. Make your manager’s job easier, and you’ll become indispensable and influential.
If you have a positive relationship with your manager, she’ll be more open to your ideas, and you can become a bigger catalyst for change.
Like most important things, change takes time. After all, it took Harry seven books to defeat Voldemort (not that your boss is Voldemort). But by demonstrating how changes will contribute to the company’s bottom line, leading by example and establishing a healthy relationship with your manager, you can make a difference. And as a bonus, your weeks won’t feel like they should be over by Tuesday.
, is Managing Partner and founder at . The team at gothamCulture focuses on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders in developing and executing breakthrough strategies to elevate performance. The team provides critical, thought-provoking insights to leaders who desire to use organizational culture and leadership as key drivers of performance.