24 Nov

Are You Drinking the Kool-Aid or Stirring the Pitcher? Know the Flavor of Your Office Culture.

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What’s the Flavor of Your Kool-Aid?

After a tumultuous team meeting at a former place of employment, a seasoned co-worker said something to me that changed my entire thought process about the workplace and how I conduct myself as a manager. With deepest sincerity, he said, “Jamye, you either have to drink the kool-aid or stir the pitcher, but you can’t do both”. It got me thinking. Do I give in and just go along with the crowd or do I keep trying to implement change in an environment that doesn’t want it? Neither option seemed right for me so I began to evaluate myself. I decided that to be the manager I had hoped to be, I had to discover the leader I was meant to be. By taking this journey, I soon found myself happily drinking the kool-aid I was stirring. You can too!  First, you need to know the flavor of your kool-aid.

What’s the Flavor in Your Office?

What is the culture of your office?  Is it laid-back with flexibility or rigid with strong deadlines?  Are the employees open to new ideas or believe in the traditional ways of doing things? Evaluating some of these questions will help you develop your management style and cultivate your inner leader. However, by not taking the time to research these types of questions, you could find yourself staring at a man wearing no pants.  Let me explain.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of helping an eager, young lady find employment after being unemployed for a couple of years. For weeks, we perfected her resume, answered ads, practiced interviews, and purchased the queen of all power suits. Finally, the day came for her to go to an interview for a job she read in the newspaper.  Awkwardly, she attempted to answer questions being asked by a man who was naked as sin. Although we hadn’t prepared for this scenario, she impressed her future boss and was offered the job as a housekeeper for a Nudist Resort.

Several lessons were learned that day.  In addition to not staring and “what you see at a nudist resort, stays at the resort” (especially naked people playing tennis), I learned that we should spend more time evaluating our environments.  We cannot prepare for, adjust to, or attempt to change an environment we don’t understand. We need to realize the culture of our organization. By doing so, we are able to evaluate ourselves in this environment.  We can plan, act, and respond appropriately.  We can protect ourselves from surprise interviews by naked people (unless that is your thing and I’m fine with that).

As a manager, you can begin to learn the culture (the flavor) in your office by exploring these environmental characteristics:

  • Communication

How do the employees speak to each other? Do the employees and other managers prefer active methods (ex. in-person) or passive (ex. emails)? How is management addressed? Are conversations jovial or serious? Are there obvious cliques? If employees address the CEO by Jane and you are requesting to be addressed as Ms. Smith, you may be creating a barrier between you and the employees.  If there are cliques, it may be necessary for you to address conflicts between groups to open lines of communication.

  • Office Design

Does the office have an “open-door” policy? Is there an open-floor plan or cubicles? Is the office “inviting” for employees to interact with each other or designed to give employees private working space?

  • Dress Code

What is the dress code in the office? Does your CEO & President wear velour sweat pants and flip-flops or business suits? (Not that I know a CEO like that.) What do you wear? Keep in mind that employees may have a certain dress code because of business situations such as an attorney wearing a business suit on court days and jeans on non-court days or a housekeeper wearing clothing at a nudist resort because she is working with chemicals and cleaning equipment (I’m pretty sure there are rules on that…well, for her sake, I hope there are).  

  • Technology

How do employees communicate with each other and management? Are employees using technology to communicate ideas with each other (emails, texts, blogs, etc.)? What is the policy and practice of using personal cell phones at work? Are you telling employees NOT TO TEXT at work while you send the message as a TEXT?

Employees are willing to follow a leader who appears to relate to them and is capable of demonstrating management skills conducive to the office environment. In these situations, you may want to drink a little of the kool-aid. However, there may be times when a change in the type of leadership is needed to correct bad office practices or inappropriate employee behavior. Therefore, you may need to get a long spoon and begin to stir. No matter the situation, before you can drink or stir, you must know the flavor.

Summary

Understanding the culture of your organization will help you to evaluate your role in the environment.  This information allows for a manager to consider management styles appropriate for the environment. I am not suggesting for a manager to completely change management styles to simply be accepted.  The challenges and discoveries in exploring organizational culture will contribute to cultivating the leader within every manager.

Hi, I’m Jamye. I am the Operations Manager for SRE, Inc. When I’m not drowning in the depths of my doctoral dissertation in organizational leadership, I enjoy energizing my soul with books, movies, music (especially Motown), travel, sports, and anything that soothes, enlightens, and challenges my mind, body, and soul. Although I am on a constant journey of personal and professional growth, my stable ground and greatest job is being a military spouse.