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How to Create a Positive Work Culture

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Culture is what gets your organization to its destination. A family can plan the most amazing road trip, with stops at cities, landmarks, and beautiful views, but if their car has no wheels, no fuel, and nothing but conflict between family members, they are going nowhere.

The same is true for companies like yours. A company can plan an amazing product launch, for example, complete with marketing plans, production facilities, and logistical support, but if employees don’t care, aren’t on the same page, and teams feel disconnected from one another, the launch will likely be a disaster.

In short, your company vision may be compelling, but without a positive work culture to support it, your leaders and managers will always fall short.

“Behind every winning organization is a unique identity,” writes Lee Williams of Success.com, “one that sets it apart from others and gives employees a strong sense of belonging, ownership, value, and meaning.” Who wouldn’t prefer to work in a setting where he or she felt valued and part of a greater purpose? But how can the managers in your organization help foster that positive culture?

People development is the key to breakthrough growth in a leader’s influence. When a leader invests in developing people, he or she helps create a positive work culture built on mutual trust and respect and encourages other leaders in the company to do the same.

People no longer perform because they have to, but because of the personal investment in their growth. That distinction becomes critical when your managers understand what motivates people to work in the first place.

In the rush of trying to produce results, it can be easy for your leaders to forget the groundbreaking study by professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester. They distinguished the six main reasons for why people work. A Harvard Business Review article recently adapted their work for the modern workplace.

Feel free to share these six factors with your company’s managers to teach them how to create a positive work culture. The six factors can be divided into two categories: direct motives—which improve performance— and indirect motives—which reduce performance.

Direct motives that improve performance:

  • Play motivates because of the work itself. People work because they enjoy it. Managers can maximize this motivation by matching the right people with the right positions. When people do what they love to do, they enjoy the work and find it fulfilling.
  • Purpose motivates based on the direct outcome of the work. People work because they value its impact on society or in support of a cause or of one another. When managers think of why they do what they do, they can keep the answer front and center for their employees. Everyone enjoys working more when they know what they do has a greater purpose.
  • Potential motivates when the outcome of the work benefits someone’s identity. In other words, the work enhances his or her potential. By giving employees the opportunity to develop new skillsets, receive training, or try new things, leaders can harness their natural self-interest to create a win-win scenario.

Conversely, indirect motives reduce performance:

  • Emotional pressure builds when work because some external force threatening someone’s identity. Fear, peer pressure, guilt, and shame are all forms of emotional pressure that negatively affects the work culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. The work could be done without it, but insecure leaders often resort to these tactics and unintentionally drive the best employees away.
  • Economic pressure makes people work exclusively for money, an external force that leaves people feeling unfulfilled. Financial reward has an important place, but economic pressure as the primary motivation to perform will wear a team down over the long-term.
  • Inertia keeps people moving when no one can remember what was motivating them in the first place. When the motivation is so far removed from purpose and potential, people tend to work on auto-pilot, going through the motions without a clear sense of why they are working.

The most positive and productive work cultures actively maximize the direct motivations and minimize indirect ones to achieve what they call “total motivation.”

At the end of the day, a positive work culture that motivates people in healthy ways relies on leaders successfully developing people. Forbes writer, Josh Bersin asserts, “How leaders behave, what they say, and what they value drives culture.” Leaders who want to know how to create a positive work culture that will shape others to reach their fullest potential will soon discover employees who are motivated to succeed for all the right reasons.



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