ORGANIZATIONS ARE REALLY microcosms of the larger universe we live in. Hence they can be hot, cold, tropical or temperate. They can also be dry, balmy, Mediterranean or equatorial. The combined energy stemming from the top and flowing through all its elements makes them so.
Organisations are also carbon copies of the people who inhabit these institutions. While a lot of emphasis is given to well-designed buildings, defining looks in terms of the exterior and ergonomic layouts within, what forms the core is the characteristics the organisations imbibe from the organisational denizens. And by this analogy, organizations can be ethical, temperamental, dictatorial, friendly & warm, manipulating & politically charged and so on.
Finally, what really shape the organisational climate are the dominant traits of the top leader at its helm. So whether the top dog is fair, biased, aggressive, assimilative, open-minded and inclusive or clique and coterie centered, insecure or confident, the organisation tends to take on similar features and harbour the climate that screams of the same defining set of behavioural facets.
What Shapes Employee Behaviour?
Wikipedia defines organisational climate thus – “Organisational climate (sometimes known as Corporate Climate) is the process of quantifying the “culture” of an organisation. It is a set of properties of the work environment, perceived directly or indirectly by the employees, that is assumed to be a major force in influencing employee behaviour.” What must be added is that, the Climate is actually a derivative of the employee bearing and actions intertwined with the Company brand philosophy. On the other hand, well set organisational climate shapes up employee deportment and impacts their efforts. It is, indeed, a complexly circular relationship with one being the causing agent of another and vice versa.
Nationalities do play an important role in defining organisational climate. So, there would be different organisational cultures in America or Europe that would differ from what exists in Africa or Asia. We have heard enough about how Americans or French or Japanese or Chinese or Indians work in their own milieu. And several hand books have been written on how to understand, perform and survive in these varying cultures. But then with decreased geographical distances by virtue of shorter time spans required to travel around and increased virtual and technology thrusts, organisations have fast become multicultural and multinational bodies that should and have allowed thriving of people from different cultures, have respected the cultural sensibilities while all the time ensuring that it all dovetails back into the common vision and mission of the organisation at large.
Organisational Culture as a Product of the Nature of Business
Secondly, nature of business plays a key role in defining the organisational culture. Therefore, government bodies function and feel differently from private companies. Old world professions like hospitals, hotels, banks etc. tend to be more formal than the relatively new businesses such as software firms, advertising agencies, media organisations or FMCG enterprises, where the culture is more informal, less starchy and more yuppy. So, while all-week Friday dressing or addressing the boss by his first name or grabbing a sandwich lunch while at one’s work station or engaging in informal and impromptu discussions in the corridors are all part and parcel of working in such organisations, all this would be simply sacrilege in the formal establishments.
But what is single-handedly most important in defining an organisation is the set of soft qualities that the employees and chiefly the top leadership bring into the organisation. This, in fact, becomes one of the major rationales for the reputation oscillating between – does the organisation manage to attract and retain good talent or is hiring, firing and frequent resigning more the norm at this place. These parameters essentially define whether the organisation is known for its best practices and often comes out on top of the most respected organisations’ surveys year after year or is it a place where people may come for short gains and quick trials, where they end up making as swift an exit as their entry.
A few years back, my young para-legal expert and social activist niece came back one evening broken and shattered from her work place that had not only formed the foundation but also helped define her professional identity for the last three years. Her main set of grouses were – there was a huge amount of incongruence between what she was expected to do and was being asked to do; with no clear definition of her roles and no proper direction from a supervising authority she was being made to run around like a headless chicken, that the top boss was whimsical, highly temperamental and given to loud & severe emotional outbursts that would end up sapping a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm, that a lot of colleagues contributed to and festered on malefic grapevine which ended up becoming fodder for the daily news and basis for the existing, rotting climate within the organisation. So much so that double promotions in a year and increase in salary structure were not proving to be strong retaining factors as against the severely damaging and driving out forces that lurked within.
Leadership Key to Healthy Organisation
In one’s career history, while growth and better opportunity are often the crucial reasons for moving out from one and into another organisation, the other main reason that seldom gets talked about openly is a huge sense of disenchantment or dissatisfaction or unhappiness stemming from a sour equation with an immediate boss or the super boss or the politically charged peer group that makes it difficult for one to perform optimally. Difficult and unreasonable bosses or a set of ogre-like colleagues is in fact a bigger, often unspoken reason for people to move and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Several HR studies, globally, have proved this fact time and again.
In the early 1990s, as a young, sprightly fresher with rose-tinted glasses I joined the Public Affairs Section of a Diplomatic Mission in Delhi. This was my second job and I had often heard that it was Asians who were more clique-y, gossipy, with inherent biases and prone to apple-polishing. So, imagine my astonishment when I found some of my Western colleagues as guilty as their Asian counterparts. My first reaction was, “Hell! Here too!” And the second more thought after, “We all are the same beneath the veneer.”
My first boss here was a grouchy, somewhat mean, cranky man given to favouritism and unpleasant disposition. He was tendentious towards one single person – obviously his favourite – instead of treating the entire team fairly so much so that this person embodied the same attributes as the boss, adding extra doses of her viciousness to it. At one time when I was working along with her, she would rejoice in giving me some of the most menial tasks – “just do the filing,” “get me connected to so and so on the phone,” – and had the audacity to keep the official files hidden away and stashed under lock and key lest I lay my hands on them even when I had to file. Mind you, this was no confidential data but the ludicrous behavior continued, fanned by the boss’ strong inclination towards this person that allowed for many such unprofessional acts to flourish in the department. Then one day this boss was transferred out and in came a breath of fresh air in the form of a youthful, dynamic lady who brought in a sea change in the department in terms of how we viewed PR work, how we regarded each other as colleagues, how our work was perceived by other departments and the parent Government we had to report back to. What came across bright and clear were two different modes of leadership, two distinct personalities who contributed in their own way to the manner the department looked, breathed, felt and delivered. While one was a negative influence, the other used her high standard of skills, fine leadership style, fair & equal opportunity approach to make every work day a fun and productive day and ended up turning the Public Affairs Department into a highly respected and sought after department in the High Commission.
My next stint for a period of more than a decade and a half has been with hotels. Now, hotels are completely multicultural organisations where the work force is truly international, hailing from different countries, of course the largest base is of the countrymen from the place where the hotel is located. Yet, in hotels it becomes extremely pertinent to know how to work together with people from as far and wide as France and Germany to Sri Lanka and China. Despite the cultural differences, this ends up adding a lot of fun elements to one’s day in the life of the organisation as you end up learning about these cultures and understanding what makes the ‘other’ people tick. This, however, is subject matter of another discourse.
In hotels, while the owner or the CEO of the hotel chain is the defining personality, the GM of the unit hotel where you may work is the lord of his own fiefdom and the team and staff pick out from this leader’s personality aspects and way of running his hotel as much as the top boss’ style percolates down.
On hindsight, having worked with six different GMs across three hotel chains, I have been fortunate to sometimes thrive and at times strive & struggle in as many organisational climates. And where there has been striving, it really has been a battlefront that has made one as hard as a rock, yet more understanding of the complexities and dynamics of a fire-pit organisation.
It has also brought home the point that leaders can really make or break an organisation. Not just what corporate literature may tell you, from personal experience, too, I can list out that –
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The organisation can be a happy and fun place to which you look forward to returning every morning and to which you willingly want to give extra hours at the end of the day. Such organisations create an overriding sense of job engagement and satisfaction.
It can be such that each day, nay, moment is difficult to pass with an impossible boss breathing menacingly down your neck and wicked set of colleagues rubbing their hands in malicious glee every time they pull you down like the proverbial Indian crab.
The organisation can be healthy, conducive to work with unsurpassed functionality and highly ethical work practices. Responsibilities and recognition, exemplary output and rewards go hand in hand in such places.
It can be sick, divisive, undermining and demoralizing. What might get you ahead is hoodwinking and proximity to the influential people like the bosses or the boss’ right hand man; even if such easily ill-gotten prizes are short-lived and open to scrutiny.
The organisation can be a place that allows you to blossom as a star worker with positive strokes that help germinate your skills and talent into wonderful fruits of productivity.
It can also be a place where there is so much of negative energy that all that can flower there is more bad blood splattered about by parasitic employees who eat into the climate.
The organisation can be a place where workers breathe in fresh air, enjoy positive influences, are allowed space to make mistakes and grow, have access to information, become a two way process in clear communication and are given learning opportunities.
Then there are organisations that live in the dark zone of fear, punishment, connivance and control. They operate like secret missions where unnecessary stuff is hidden and kept out of reach of the employees thereby acting as major impediment in the processes and execution of duty.
There are healthy and buzzing organisations that promote good work practices, innovation and creativity and encourage workers to take ownership of their actions.
And there are organisations where flattery, manipulation, bad performances, terrible attitudes and overall downward slope in almost all areas rule the roost.[/message][su_spacer]
It has been a grave Human Resource issue when bad organisational climate leads to absenteeism, increased number of sick leaves, wastage of a multitude of man hours, loss in yield, both individual and collective, and a sharp blow to the bottom line. On the other hand, a good and healthy organisational climate is promoting, nurturing, encouraging and leads to brilliance in work and success in business.
Organisations need to realize and take into account the huge amounts of time, energy and money they lose not only when good, well-trained and high performing employees leave but also when they continue to house under-performing, negative and poorly trained workforce that is more of a drain on the company’s resources as against the miniscule nothings that it ends up bringing to the table.
Organisational climate should feed off Organisational culture which in turn should be laid on the foundation of trust, respect, honesty, pleasantness, growth and excellence.