The horror of a bad organizational culture

Many companies strive to create a strong organizational culture where the core values of the organization are intensely held and shared among employees. In order to instil a positive and strong organizational culture, it is important for the management to provide employees with a sense of direction and expectations that allow them to be on task. Additionally, with a proper structure that has well defined roles and responsibilities, every employee would better understand what his or her duties are and the way to accomplish these tasks before the deadlines.  Besides direction, unity and identity are also factors which contribute to a positive and strong organizational culture. Unity helps to promote cohesion among employees which would further spur cooperation and open communication in the workplace; whereas the forging of a reputable identity allows the organization to build a brand image that is acknowledged and respected by all its stakeholders.

Even though a positive organizational culture is the goal of many companies, there are still many organizations out there with weak and negative organizational culture. I did my first internship at an integrated marketing firm that has an atrocious organizational culture and its bad organizational culture engendered many repercussions such as high turnover rate as well as a loss in profits. From the most evident material symbols which include the size and layout of the office and the elegance of furnishing, I was already able to somehow deduce the culture and climate of this firm on my first day of internship. The office was very messy with boxes and logistics lying around; however, none of the employees took the initiative to clear this mess. The interior of the office was already quite cramp and the mess in the office further compounded this problem, making it difficult for us to move around the office. This revealed to me that the employees in this firm did not have a sense of belonging and responsibility towards their company; because if they did, they would have volunteered to clear the office instead of just turning a blind eye towards the mess. Additionally, this showed that the firm cultivated a very individualistic culture where employees were only concerned with their own projects instead of the firm as a whole.

Besides the messy environment of the office, there was also insufficient working cubicles for the employees. Hence, newer employees and interns had to share cubicles; some of the employees were made to sit in the meeting room temporarily given that there were no more cubicles even for sharing! Thus these employees had to endure the trouble of moving in and out whenever there was a meeting to be held in the meeting room that they were not involved in. This actually placed a great disruption to their work since they often had to waste time shifting their documents and laptops in and out of the meeting room. Thus it was inevitable that the employees were not performing at their highest productivity level. Additionally, I spoke to some of the newer employees who were in their probation period and they mentioned that they were planning to leave after their probation period and were already in the midst of searching for a new job. The inability to provide employees with the most basic working conditions had led to them having the perception that their presence were dispensable and that their services were not valued by the company. The firm’s lack of emphasis on its people resulted in the formation of a weak organizational culture where employees were loosely knit and had no sense of loyalty for the company. Hence it was of no surprise that the company was facing a high turnover rate with employees leaving every  other week.

Not only was the company negligent towards its employees’ welfare, it also displayed irresponsibility towards other stakeholders, for example: its suppliers. The lack of proper organizational structure often led to confusion over which employees should take charge of payment of bills to suppliers thus an oversight occurred frequently. Therefore suppliers were often calling the office complaining that they did not receive long overdue bills. Some disgruntled suppliers even terminated their working relationships with the company since they found it difficult to be paid on time.

The structural deficiency in the company led to a poor management of the office environment as well as a breed of irresponsibility towards stakeholders, which includes its employees. This eventually cultivated a negative and weak organizational culture which was ineffective for working which explained why the company has been experiencing losses for the past few years. Without a proper revamp to its culture and structure, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company were to go out of business soon.

My OB Journey

The past 5 weeks in Professor Audrey’s OB class had been an enriching and thought-provoking one. Not only have I gained an invaluable amount of knowledge about the different organization theories and how interconnected these theories are in contributing towards the climate and culture of the workplace, I have also further affirmed that the everyday process of ‘going to work’ is not just like any other routine. More often than not, the daily routine which we follow during our personal time can be done mechanically without much thought processing since how we carry out this routine would not very much affect third parties. However, the routine of ‘going work’ everyday cannot be done mechanically because there are elements in the workplace that require us to display a certain degree of behavior intelligence so as to better manage personal behavior and relationships in the workplace, especially in the age of globalization where companies have been witnessing a greater diversity among its employees. In a workplace with people from different nationalities and having contrasting background, it is essential for individuals to be equipped with cognitive cultural intelligence when they go to work, in order to interact and work effectively with their colleagues who have different nationalities. Having vast knowledge about other cultures would allow individuals to be aware of what are the dos and don’ts when communicating and working together with foreign colleagues. Being discerning of other cultures would not only help to mitigate any conflicts that might arise from the differences in culture, behaving according to cultural expectations would also allow foreign colleagues  to feel respected and welcomed. This would create a friendly and diversity-loving climate in the company that would be attractive for potential foreign talents to join. Additionally, I have also understood that people have different reasons that motivate them to go for work and they hope to achieve varying rewards from work. Some people value extrinsic rewards such as pay rise while others may appreciate intrinsic rewards such as achieving self-actualization and esteem. With different motivators, people might, as a result, adopt varying attitudes towards their work to attain the rewards they yearn.

The theories of OB are not just relatable in the classroom context, these theories are also very much applicable in the real world where organizations do apply the OB concepts to enhance the environment and climate in the workplace. I was interning at Singapore Exchange (SGX) for the last 6 months. Unlike other companies which only have a relatively small and enclosed pantry, SGX has an extremely spacious and open pantry which the management named it as ‘Market Place’.

sgx 1                          sgx 2

A marketplace in common context is a ‘place where values, opinions, and ideas are put forward for debate or recognition’ and an open space where people congregate together to interact. Thus by naming the pantry as ‘Market Place’, the SGX management team hopes to use the open pantry as a nudge to promote communication and synergy among employees across division by providing them with a space where interaction can take place easily. With such an ample area in its pantry and even furnishing it with drinks, snacks and fruits, most employees (including the interns like me!) have much incentive to purchase their lunch back to the pantry, instead of having lunch outside. There were around 10 interns in various departments during the time I was interning and despite being in different departments, we often made use of the Market Place as our ‘meeting point’ where we had lunch and breaks together. It was not just the team of interns, full time employees from different departments would also be having lunch together at the Market Place; and sometimes if the management team happened to walk past, they would also join them as well. Through all the lunch-time and break-time interactions, SGX’s employees, regardless of their divisions, are able to forge a close relationship with each other and this would help to create a cordial culture in SGX where relationships amongst colleagues are valued. Additionally, SGX also holds celebrations for festivals such as Christmas and New Year at Market Place as well where all employees would gather for an afternoon of fun and drinks. This further helps to promote a fun-loving and lively culture in SGX which I believe would allow work to be more enjoyable for all SGX employees.

Hence from the design of SGX’s open pantry, it is evident that the management team has cleverly planned to use environmental cues as a driver to advocate interactions among employees in order to attain the goal of building a people-oriented culture within the company. From this, we are able to see how OB’s theory becomes alive in the real world.