How to maintain a culture of mutual respect

It’s only natural for people with similar ideas and beliefs to seek each other out whether they’re in their communities, online or at work. Like-minded and culturally linked people typically gather not with the intent of discrimination or a desire to shut out a certain kind of person, but to associate with people who a share a set of beliefs, a background, a kinship and sense of being.

While the assumption might veer into a political correctness minefield, William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent, says the aim is to explore this natural human tendency within the context of workplace dynamics, the health of which is essential to create a positive employee experience.

“Company leaders have a difficult task trying to balance what may be competing forces: our innate biases and doing the right thing for the organization,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about how to understand and manage cultural dynamics in the workplace.

What tendencies do people typically display when working in groups?

People with specific cultural or lifestyle identities have always looked for others with a similar view through a natural desire to find others with shared beliefs.

But in a workplace environment, people don’t always get to choose their colleagues.

When differences emerge among people in a group from the moderate middle of any cultural norm, the person who thinks differently may become a dissenter, and depending on his or her personality and influence, may disrupt an otherwise harmonious working community.

How might dissent affect cultural stasis in the workplace?

Those who feel things differently than the tribe, community, clan or group of which they are a member tend to set out on their own. They have decided to not share the values of their home community or common family beliefs, and with that decision, a result manifests that can create discomfort for all involved.

When a community dissenter makes such a decision, everyone around them feels the conflict and discomfort. The person can feel unloved, hurt by reactions. The community may express disappointment, judgment or even silly threats and might shun the dissenter from the community. Everyone involved begins to question their colleagues’ or group’s belief. Doubt, frustration, name-calling and extrapolating to the extreme can be a result of one simple belief that is different from the tribe, community or company culture.

The differences can create disharmony in the workplace because company culture is just the manifestation of shared beliefs among employees who have bought in to an established idea — the company’s values and mission. The dissenter points their finger back at the community with a sense of blame, and other rebellious behaviors may rise to the surface. Work is disrupted, communication channels tighten, customer service suffers and otherwise good employees become distracted or outright leave the company.

That’s when it becomes the job of company leaders to step in and reinforce the ‘right’ behaviors.

How do company leaders address these complex feelings and behaviors to create the kind of employee experience desired?

It is hard for company leaders to know what to do when it’s tough to get a sense of what exactly is happening with the cultural dynamic in the company. However, it is always better to do something than nothing. A good place to start is with just a few questions that you can ask yourself and others.

  • Who are the people that represent the heart of the company?
  • How does leadership get people to focus on a common set of company values?
  • Which people are consistently part of the dissenting crowd?

When a company culture is disrupted, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Leaders must identify the issues and work with influencers at all levels of the organization to find a solution and implement a fix. It may mean letting go of otherwise productive employees, but it’s better to lose one person who doesn’t fit within the culture than let the entire organization suffer.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent