How Culture Affects Productivity

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The lunch-hour lecture may be a great idea, but it is not what we have in mind when we say that culture influences productivity. Mozart in the morning does not necessarily mean that five extra tonnes of ore will be produced per employee per shift.

When we speak of the culture of an organization, we refer to the behaviour patterns and standards that bind it together. Some organizational cultures encourage productivity; many do not.

Culture should not be confused with climate. Climate is the short-term mood of an organization. Unlike culture, it is fragile and subject to change.

How Beliefs Affect Culture

An organization''s culture encompasses everything it does and everything it makes. That is, it not only affects the manner in which managers manage (and consequently shape employee behaviour), but it also affects the way in which the organization processes its product and provides services to its customers.

Culture is influenced by an organization''s beliefs. For example, if we believe, as many managers still do, that the blue-collar worker is capable only of operating a machine, and this belief permeates the company, then the organization is overlooking the possibilities of collaborative goal setting, positive feedback, open dialogue and innovation. A navigator who believes the world is flat will refuse to explore the far horizon for fear of falling off the edge. So too these tradition-bound managers resist exploring new ways to manage. They have been thrust into an authoritarian style of management.

Actions Speak Louder That Words

A company''s culture tells the people who work for it what is right and wrong, what to believe, what not to believe, how to react and how to feel. And its actions speak louder than its words.

For example, many companies cite quality as their main goal. But when the production and quality control managers make arrangements to increase the speed of the manufacturing line while reducing the quality tolerance level, what message does this convey to the employees? And if these employees challenge their managers on the sacrifice of quality in favour of quantity, and the managers reply, "You do your work and I''ll do the thinking," what are these employees likely to believe the company values most? If there is a logical reason for the change, such as the customer having indicated a preference for lesser quality at a lower price, then why not explain this to the employees? They will understand that the customer can and should dictate to the organization and not the organization to the customer.

Generally, behaviour patterns are most strongly influenced by the leaders of the organization. The words and actions of the quality control and production managers reflect the values and beliefs of senior management.

How Culture Affects Productivity

Organizational culture and productivity are closely related. Simply stated, productivity is the art of getting the company''s products and/or services to the customer at the lowest possible cost. But it is more than that - it is related to quality, to customer needs and to labour relations. In other words, productivity and good management are inseparable.

Productivity is a result of motivation, and motivation thrives in a good climate. If management is to transform this fragile good climate into a long-lasting culture for success, it will have to focus on the following seven areas of improvement:

1. Organizational Clarity

The degree to which the goals and plans of the organization are clearly perceived by its members rises in proportion to the employees'' feelings of involvement in the goal-setting and planning procedures. Fostering this feeling of involvement and direction is more important than presenting lists of objectives and detailed plans. To promote organizational clarity, involve all members of the organization in the goal-setting and planning process.

2. Decision-Making Structure

We tend to forget that the main...
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