Every workplace has its own personality, and new employees quickly learn what is expected. Some workplaces focus on great customer service, others on innovation, and in some places safety is job one. These differences reflect the organizational climate that defines what is important. To achieve desired results, organization management needs to build the kind of climate that tells employees what is expected of them. But building climates is not always easy. That is why it is important to know how to build your organizational climate that supports the goals you have in mind.
What Is an Organizational Climate?
An organizational climate has to do with the policies and practices that filter from the top to the bottom of an organization. It is reflected by the behaviors that are encouraged versus the behaviors that are discouraged by management. There are many types of climates that an organization can adopt. Some common types include:
- Customer service: An emphasis on providing high quality service to clients, customers, and patients who are provided goods and services.
- Diversity: An emphasis on providing an environment that supports diversity among all stakeholders including customers, employees, and others. Organizations with diversity climates not only have a diverse workforce but they achieve inclusion where everyone feels valued and welcome.
- Ethical: An emphasis on employees maintaining high ethical and moral standards in dealing with one another and the public.
- Innovation: An emphasis on trying new things throughout the organization, including new ways of working. This means providing an environment where employees are encouraged to try things without fear of being punished if they do not work.
- Safety: An emphasis on keeping employees safe from physical and psychological harm from accidents, mistreatment by others, and violence.
Some organizations have strong climates that exists at all levels and locations. Others have weak climates, meaning that there is no set of expectations that are clearly expressed to all employees. Of course, to some extent climate is determined by function—customer service is more important for sales and safety is more important for production. But to be fully effective, climate needs to be front and center across the organization.
How To Build Your Organizational Climate
Building an organizational climate begins by defining what that climate should be. Do you want to emphasize diversity, innovation, safety, or something else? Also keep in mind that you can emphasize more than one thing, but it works best if climates are compatible. For example, diversity and safety work together well, as keeping everyone psychologically safe is the foundation of creating an inclusive organization.
Once it is determined what the climate will be, it can be reflected in written policies that define expected actions and activities of employees. But policies are only the beginning, and in and of themselves do not produce a climate. To do that the practices of the organization—what people actually do—must be changed. This requires leadership by those who supervise people, starting at the top and filtering throughout the organization. There are five leadership actions all supervisors should do to build your organizational climate.
- Correcting: Supervisors need to pay attention to employees, so they can discourage behaviors that run counter to the climate. For example, if safety climate is the goal, employees who violate safety protocols need correction. A good approach is the idea of progressive discipline. This means that initial violations are met with a firm but gentle reminder. Successive violations would be result in increasingly harsh punishment, and ultimately termination if the violation is serious and repeated.
- Messaging: Supervisors need to talk about what is expected of employees. If innovation is the goal, supervisors should initiate conversations about innovation. This can be done at meetings and during informal interactions.
- Modeling: Supervisors should walk the talk and model the behaviors they expect. Nothing undermines a climate more than a supervisor who takes a “do as I say not as I do” approach.
- Rewarding: It is not enough for supervisors to correct “wrong” behavior. They must acknowledge and reward correct behavior. This does not have to be tangible rewards; appreciation and recognition can be powerful tools that encourage and motivate employees.
- Teaching: Supervisors should be coaches and instructors who help employees develop the knowledge and skill to engage in behaviors that promote the climate. For example, supervisors should help customer service employees develop skills to provide good service.
Building an organizational climate means that all organization leaders need to give it priority in how they lead their direct reports. It isn’t something that can be accomplished by setting policies and sending out memos. It takes hard work to change a climate, but doing so can reap big rewards in helping organizations achieve their goals.