Culture eats strategy for breakfast, or so I’ve been told. But what if culture is the result of strategy? Every company is going to have a different mood around the workplace, and leadership is ultimately responsible for how that turns out. It may be the result of intentional, careful planning, or it may change with staff turnover a few times a year.
Two factors—job demands and resources—have a huge impact on a team’s engagement and effectiveness. Understanding how to balance these factors as a leader is paramount in creating a culture where people want to show up each day ready to make an impact in their community without sacrificing their physical or mental wellbeing. Deciding what is appropriate as an employee is equally important in order to communicate expectations and define boundaries so that everybody can win.
The JD-R model of work engagement (opens in new tab) that outlines the relationship between job demands and resources applies to parenting, leadership, and pretty much any other arena where performance is expected.
The first quadrant of the model represents low demands and few resources, resulting in low strain and average motivation. Another way to look at this is that not much is expected from tasks in this quadrant, so there’s little direction or encouragement from management. These tasks lead to high turnover because they don’t tend to offer much personal satisfaction. The opportunity exists for somebody to set their own goals and outperform the low expectations, but that is the result of individual achievement and would not be expected due to the nature of the work.
The next two quadrants are not balanced and have their own challenges. When the expectations or demands for a role are high, but are paired with few resources and little encouragement, it is a recipe for disaster. The high levels of stress and frustration will always lead to burnout. Employers need to recognize when these conditions exist and should seek to solve the problem immediately by adding resources or lowering the expectations on that role appropriate to the amount of resources available.
For example, if somebody quits or is let go and is not replaced in the corporate hierarchy, somebody has to pick up the additional work. The unfortunate soul who is tasked to do so will be left with an unsustainable workload. Good communication can help here.
When management acknowledges the imbalance and agrees to find additional help, the situation can be sustained for a short time with the expectation that it will be temporary. It is not unusual for a season of hard work to occur, but when the unusually heavy workload becomes the new normal with no end in sight, good people will start looking for a new opportunity every time. Responsibility also lies with the employee to communicate what they are experiencing up the chain and seek help in identifying the factors that have caused the imbalance in order to put a permanent solution in place.
On the other hand, when there are plenty of resources and direction from management but few expectations or demands, a problem still exists. Humans look to their vocation to challenge them mentally and physically. A good manager will use one-on-one meetings to set growth goals for their team members. Employees who are not occasionally being pushed outside of their comfort zones will not grow and will likely not become more capable. A lack of promotion and advancement hurts the individual and the organization equally. A person with 10 years of experience is better than a person with one year of experience 10 years in a row.
Without question, the best action for leadership and management to take is to set high, demanding expectations paired with plenty of encouragement, resources, and direction. The outcome will always be average strain and high motivation, benefitting everyone involved. Folks who are challenged show up ready for battle, care about people, and learn willingly. In turn, they benefit from good role models and trust, and they almost always go on to lead teams and become change-makers wherever they go.
Culture can change with the tides, but a strategy to create a consistent culture of engaged producers always breeds a culture that everyone wants to be a part of.
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