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THE INC. LIFE

You Can Rework Company Culture. Start by Reworking Your Office

Office layout influences employee behavior. Is your workspace holding you back?

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BY Jennifer Walton - 26 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Variations of the maxim culture eats strategy for breakfast have shown up in business journals for decades, usually attributed to a high-profile CEO. In truth, culture and strategy feed each other, but only culture can inspire, encourage teamwork, and build loyalty. Culture is emotional. It builds confidence. It's the ultimate company benefit.

But if your company culture doesn't align with your business strategy, it could be the ultimate detriment. While management may believe company culture and strategy are aligned, the workplace could be telling employees a different story, which could negatively affect confidence and impair performance.

The good news is culture can be realigned. The following three steps can improve your company's performance:

1. Find your distinct cultural mix.

Methods of communication mirror a company's culture, but this doesn't mean every company culture will fit neatly into one category. In fact, research by University of Michigan business professors Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn reveals that every organization has a distinct combination of organizational cultures. Their studies suggest that a flexible mix of the following cultures is most effective:

  • Hierarchy: The work environment has top-down communication and closed offices. It's structured, efficient, and usually is found at large organizations. Think of the military or McDonald's.
  • Market-Driven: The workspace is a mix of flexible collaborative areas, collision zones, and offices. This type of culture wants to dominate the market and get things done. A good example is Oracle under Larry Ellison's hard-driving leadership.
  • Clan: The surroundings are sociable with open collaboration and no office barriers. In this type of office environment, everyone has a voice, like a nurturing family. Zappos encourages individuality and self-management, empowering all employees to make decisions.
  • Adhocracy: The environment supports spontaneous collaboration with open and closed offices. It's creative, highly energetic, often using sophisticated technology to get there first. Think about Google and how its success depends on continuous innovation.

If culture mirrors communication, then performance-based design may vary by department. Accounting could be a quiet, focused hierarchy, whereas research and development could function as an open-office adhocracy. Instead of focusing on a single culture, think about uniting form with function.

2. Shift your company culture to support your business strategy.

A performance-based design can effectively shift workplace behavior to complement your business strategy. The best time to make a major cultural shift is after moving or renovating. A new workplace layout gives employees a fresh, energizing start--away from the familiarity of the old office.

Two recent examples of this are McDonald's and General Electric, which are both realigning their cultures in new urban locations. By 2018, McDonalds will move its headquarters from its current suburban location to downtown Chicago. This well-known hierarchy aims to transition to a more open culture that can adapt more quickly to the evolving consumer market. At the same time, GE will move from its longtime headquarters in the Connecticut woods to the Boston waterfront, where its offices will be more open, vibrant, and environmentally enriched. GE and McDonald's hope to attract millennials who prefer an urban pace and a collaborative office environment.

3. Periodically review the alignment of culture and strategy.

After aligning your culture and business strategy, periodically conduct your own visual inspection to see how each department is working to support the company's goals. Look at employee behavior, traffic zones, areas of collaboration, access to technology, and underused space. Consider the following:

  • Size and location of offices usually differentiate a hierarchy. If a flatter organization would align more closely with your business strategy, think about converting corner offices into conference rooms.
  • Distance between employees and managers often indicate levels of interaction. To accelerate the feedback loop, lower the barriers and improve adjacencies. This will help to increase communication and build trust.
  • Locations, dimensions, and formality of conference areas suggest group sizes and types of collaboration. To increase cross-functional teamwork, provide meeting rooms of varying sizes in accessible locations.

The efforts made to correct a cultural misalignment will pay huge dividends in employee satisfaction, retention, and overall productivity. So when reviewing your culture, look closely for where it enhances and where it impedes employee performance. When business culture and strategy align, everyone wins.

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