We often hear about how important your company’s culture is and how it influences your employees’ ability to work and be productive. However, sometimes when we say “culture”, what we are actually referring to is the climate of the organization.
Culture is often referred to as the unique “personality” of an organization. If that is true, then organizational climate is the mood of your organization. Whereas culture is the system of values and beliefs that determine how a company's employees and management interact, the climate is how your employees’ experience that culture.
In short, climate includes all the attitudes and feelings that determine your employees’ behavior in your company. While Company Culture is more in-depth and hard to change, the climate is easier to assess and modify. Factors such as team effectiveness, leadership, and support from the organization will influence your employees’ mood and the work climate.
Measuring Organizational Climate
To a degree, the organization’s climate represents your employee’s motivation to work for your company and reflects how healthy your organization is. Employee motivation is related to the quality of the work environment and the support that employees feel they receive from the organization.
Surveys are the most common way of quantifying organizational climate. By surveying organization members with questions that attempt to measure the current climate of the organization, you will be able to evaluate the current state of the workplace and determine how to best implement human resource strategies to improve on it.
Aspects of climate that influence the performance of specific sets of behaviors and outcomes can be measured. Software such as ProSky can allow you to send out pulse surveys to measure the climate and get feedback from your employees on how they feel about different projects and procedures. By gathering this information, you can gain insight into problems that may arise and quickly address them before they become an issue.
Improving the Work Climate
The climate of an organization is open to change frequently and can be shaped by the upper management of an organization. The responsibility of measuring and improving the work climate falls on the CHRO and the HR department as a part of continuous performance management and organizational development. It is their role to improve the climate and keep the organization healthy. Below are some ways in which HR and management can directly affect the climate.
1. Establish Clear Organizational Structure
Your company climate will benefit and improve with the proper organizational structure. If everyone knows their roles and expected responsibilities, they will be more effective at their jobs.
Do your employees know your company’s strategic objectives and how their daily work contributes to achieving those objectives? Who is in charge of what part of which project? What is the chain of command and reporting? Knowing these details will improve employee motivation and the ability to complete their jobs.
In Paul Arnold's article on FirstRound about growing a startup, establishing an organization chart and clarifying roles is essential to growth. In his experience as CEO of AppDirect, he found that people actually embrace having a properly defined organizational structure:
Defined roles freed people to do better work, take clear ownership of projects, and drive results. By introducing structure early — you set the scaffolding for excellent teams: small groups of talented people working together on shared problems. Org design becomes core to your success. And if you do it right, teams are able to accomplish more than the sum of their parts.
Consider implementing Pathways into your organization structure to clearly layout employee roles and career paths. This will show employees the milestones they have to reach, the training they will be doing, and growth opportunities available to them. Having pathways will make it easier for your management to promote internally, give pay raises, and identify employees for leadership opportunities.
Besides clarifying roles, a proper organizational structure is all about putting the right set of employees together to form great teams! If you group employees with complementary work styles that have a history of working well together, they are more likely to achieve success. Over time, each individual will become familiar with the methods of the other members allowing them to complete tasks independently from each other while working towards achieving team goals.
2. Give Recognition and Rewards To Employees
Publicly recognizing employees is an easy step to improving your organization’s climate. Establish a system that recognizes and rewards employees when exceeding job expectations, helping others, or contributing new ideas or processes.
This is especially important to establishing an innovation-oriented culture and climate. Something as simple as celebrating a work anniversary, hitting a sales goal, or reaching a career milestone can help your best employees stick around! Kenny Trinh, CEO of Netbooknews says,
Top performers are often intrinsically motivated, and you may wonder what a pat on the back actually does for motivating such a person. The reality is that recognizing even small contributions goes a long way in making people stick. Any person feels valued when appreciated for good work, the same applied to top performers.
Be transparent about how the company is growing from employee contributions. Climate will improve as they see the results of their labor and know that their work effort is having an impact on the company.
Removing rewards to cut costs will often negatively affect the organization’s climate. While it is important to save money in some areas, make sure to consider the effects on climate and balance against the needs of the company. For example, taking away flexible work schedules to exert more control over employees can emphasize a rule-oriented climate that may seem oppressive.
3. Encourage Proper Work-life Balance and Workload
Employees that overwork and don’t have a proper work-life balance often suffer from burnout. Company culture is all about employing “perks” or systems to offset the workload. These perks can have a positive effect on the organizational climate.
For example, giving your employees more autonomy to complete their tasks by implementing a flexible work schedule or allowing employees to work remotely as long as goals are achieved will help you establish a goal-oriented climate. Allowing employees PTO for personal events (like birthdays or holidays) maternity/paternity leave, or providing workplace wellness programs (gym memberships, counseling, stress-relief classes) will help your organization develop an employee-oriented climate. Even in organizations that implement remote work, burnout is still a real issue. For example, new survey results of the workforce since the COVID-19 outbreak shows burnout rates have doubled when some companies transitioned into remote work.
Burnout doubled from March to April (2020), increasing from 2.7% to 5.4%, suggesting that it’s a growing threat to the productivity and engagement of today’s workforce. Employees who said they struggle with balancing their personal and work lives were 4.4x more likely to exhibit signs of burnout, and the effect was 2.3x for employees who felt overwhelmed by their workload. - Glint People Science
Helping workers balance their lives and careers in order to prevent stress and burnout is important regardless of the climate you are trying to cultivate in the organization. Communicate with employees to find the proper balance and ensure a healthy workplace environment.
Organizational climate can be affected negatively by a single toxic employee. Without a CHRO or HR analyzing the climate and addressing issues quickly, these can devolve into bigger problems down the line.
At one of our client’s companies, one of the hires put into a management position had a very negative attitude. He often spoke poorly of upper management, abused the flexible work schedule, and constantly demanded more perks and bonuses for himself and his department. The whole climate became quite toxic as more employees began to feel that they were entitled to more compensation even though their performance did not reflect it.
Because of that one bad employee, bad attitudes festered over the course of 6 months and had a very negative effect on the climate of the company. Cooperation between teams and overall effectiveness decreased as employees had bad experiences and the workspace became a very tense and unpleasant environment.
These problems could have been prevented with an internal HR department on-hand to gather feedback from employees about the climate and then implementing preventative policies to combat the negativity. Implementing a concrete pathway structure to specify milestones to be achieved in order to receive pay raises and bonuses would have also helped clarify expectations.
Ultimately, company HR and management have a very important role in influencing organizational climate. Nobody sums it up better than Kerry Wekelo, Chief Operating Officer at Actualize who says,
The bottom line is that our company is only as successful as our employees. We want the best for our employees and their health and happiness, because when our employees succeed, so do we. We are really adamant about creating a good work environment for our employees, and that isn’t just a façade. When the leadership at your firm practices what they preach, it trickles down to mean that employees are happy and that they say great things about our company from word-of-mouth.
In contrast to the earlier example, we worked with another company that had a very healthy climate. Management supported its employees' ideas and worked together with employees to find creative answers to problems. The company provided the resources and benefits to empower employees. Employees responded well to the support and reciprocated with high-quality work and innovative solutions. Everybody collaborated and the mood in the workplace was overwhelmingly positive.
Start setting a clear organizational structure to support your employees and improve their ability to work. Take an interest in their career development and helping them reach their work goals. Invest in employee training and development to show that you care about them as individuals. All these things are important in establishing a healthy culture and climate.