How Leadership Can Create That “We” Culture

We’ve blogged the last few weeks about the need for both unions and corporations to have effective leadership and we gave both “to-do” lists.  One of the items on the corporate “to-do” list was to establish a “we” culture.

In most workplaces, management sets the tone for the culture but it’s also necessary for union leadership to help develop that culture in the workplace, too,  and unions, too, can develop that type of culture within their own environment.  So what does it take to develop   a “we” culture?

There are some specific ways that can help make a culture of “we” in any organization, whether it be a unionized or non-unionized workplace.  Here’s some steps of a proven process that can get things started:

  1. Bring leadership people together to discuss the need for the change in culture. As with any significant change, it’s important to make sure everyone will be supportive of it.  If they are not, the process will probably fail.  It also will be important to stress lip service is not enough.  It  will require  actions supporting the words.  A good approach is to put together a group of employees, not just senior management or union leadership people, but a broad representation of employees to  develop a plan of action.  Some people call this a steering committee.  And just a reminder, if it’s a unionized organization, unions pick the people they want represented in this group.
  2. Explain to all within the organization why culture change is necessary. The steering committee, or group charged with implementing the change, should set up employee sessions so everyone can learn about the change.  The group, along with the person at the top, need to speak to members or staff of the organization.  This is where leadership skills are important.  A vision of the future must be presented that will help to create enthusiasm for the change but it’s also important to remember people will be skeptical  and that’s why it will be important to keep everyone informed about what’s going on.  It also will be important to use many different forms of communication so people know how the change is progressing.  Mistakes are going to happen and this is something else that needs to be acknowledged up front at the beginning and as the process moves forward.  If not, the process will lose some credibility.  Patience also needs to be emphasized especially in this on-demand world.  Changing behaviors can be one of the most difficult tasks to make but it definitely is possible.  We’ve seen it work with many groups.
  3. Culture assessment. The steering committee should plan a cultural assessment.  This will help to provide two important things for a group.  One, it will provide some information on how to make the culture change.  It will help to identify areas that may need some extra attention and additional work.  The assessment will, of course, be a measurement tool to see how the change is going.  Another assessment could follow in another year that would help to determine how culture change is progressing and, again, where improvements are still needed.    This is something that can be ongoing and done at specific intervals but to allow measurable time.
  4. Develop teams. Teams can help to address areas  in the assessment.  Teams can also help move the change forward.  Teams can also be the center of the change.  A “we” environment  engages employees to help work on and decide on day-to-day actions.  This is sometimes difficult for some managers because of the risk that prevails.  But if there isn’t that element of risk, there must not be new ideas coming forth.  It must be a culture of doing the same thing, the same way from way back when.  That’s not about being competitive and innovative.  Who else but those who actually do the job know how things can be improved.  The more employees are involved, the better they feel about the organization to move it forward.  It can help to make a more productive culture.  In an article from Harvard Business Review, October 2016, the author says failure is necessary if an organization is going to try new ideas and new ways of doing things.  He also says management must understand this is also about learning and that, too, is important.  A steering committee can help to decide how to set up teams.  Teams could be by department, could be cross-functional or temporary or ad-hoc teams.  That is a decision to be made by the steering committee.
  5. Seek training. Putting people together and be productive is not always as easy as people think.  This is the great myth out there that putting people together make a team.  That doesn’t necessarily happen especially when culture change is taking place.  Training can be on different topics such as problem solving, communication, meeting skills, or just general group dynamics that can help groups learn how to work together and get things accomplished.  Again, a steering committee can address it and determine what needs to be included in the training.  Training also doesn’t mean that people are failing or that they don’t know.  It’s taking the knowledge people have and putting it together to enhance what is already there or to make it better.
  6. Facilitation. Once training has been completed, it can be difficult to actually put the tools learned in training in actual practice.  Facilitation can help groups utilize the tools on real life issues or projects.  This helps to make the training more worthwhile than spending money on something that might not be used.  How long facilitation should take place depends on the group and what the group is working on.  The important part is not to stop too soon.  Facilitation could also help steering or leadership teams put forth their plan.  Facilitation can help groups organize their work because facilitators have specific skills that can provide that.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask for assistance.  It’s when it’s not asked for is the sign of weakness.

Culture is something that is really important.  It’s the one thing that can excite people or drain people.  There can be a lot of help or very little help and it can be because of culture.  When people feel valued, when they feel like they play a significant role in the success of the organization, and they know they are empowered the results for the organization are enormous.

Two weeks ago, we mentioned the new book by Rick Wartzman, The End of Loyalty:  The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America.  Corporations stopped being loyal to employees starting in the ’70s according to Rick.  That loyalty, he said, shifted to shareholders instead.  The culture was no longer the “we” culture.  The thing is corporations can provide for shareholders with a “we” culture and maybe even better, too. That return of investment can be huge not just for shareholders but for employees, too.   Here we have outlined a start that can help create that “we” culture.

P. S. Don’t worry, the everyday work can get done while changing culture!  It’s part of that proven process!

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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