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WFH: Can You Let Go in a Culture of Control?

Organizational culture is a hot topic. People all over in all types of organizations are talking about organizational culture. It is a mysterious term that describes the quality of an interaction-based environment. Although it is difficult to define, the assessment is usually all about “fit.” If a person fits into the corporate culture, it just feels right. Culture can make employees feel like they belong and are more supported and recognized, or not. It affects our interactions with others, behaviors and processes. Culture can support our success or is a contributor to our unraveling. Virtual workers toggle between the organizational culture and the culture of their own personal environment. A personal environment that is quiet, focused and supportive will have a much different influence than one that is noisy, interrupted and negative.

Culture manifests itself through physical and nonphysical elements in the day to day workplace. It can contribute to our loyalty and enjoyment at work. In many ways, culture is a sum of the personalities and experiences of individuals. Susan Heath-field (2017), a human resources expert, describes it as follows: “Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.” It incorporates the un-spoken and unwritten rules and is learned through interactions. Culture surrounds us and culture ex-tends to the virtual environment. Most organizations want to make a serious effort to extend their culture to the virtual environment.

Leaders in an organization have a profound ef-fect on culture because of the role they play in set-ting objectives and carrying out day to day operations. The language they use, the symbols they hang on walls, the stories they tell and their daily work practices implicitly or explicitly set the tone and the culture. A controlling culture automatically sets the tone for a lack of trust. The reverse is also true. Lack of trust sets the tone for a controlling culture, direct-ly or indirectly. Power is not connected to control, not in the 21st century. Power is connected to ideas and knowledge. The general operational norms for a group, things like great customer service, attention to detail or support and caring for employees, are all elements of culture and can greatly influence the performance.

People are more than commodities. They have hearts, emotions and minds. Most organizations don’t pay enough attention, if any, to the ideas of their people. Ideas are way too often treated like a problem and a threat. Management says they want innovation. They may even have a program or two on critical thinking skills and innovative thinking, but deep down in the culture is a fear that anything different is disruptive. Disruption is a lack of control. A lack of control is a threat to management. Most management spends a great deal of time pushing and trying to enforce their own ideas of time, agenda and speed of execution. There is little support for people to innovate, think or act with autonomy and very little trust.

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