How to Influence Workplace Culture in Five Steps 

“Who sets the culture of a team? The leaders. Who are the leaders? You are.” -Jocko Willink 

How to Influence Workplace Culture in Five Steps  

According to some studies, the average person will spend roughly a third of their life at work. And that is just time spent at work. Many people have hours-long commutes just to get there. Additionally, many people aren’t fortunate enough to work a job that they always envisioned themselves doing. The type of job that doesn’t even feel like work because they love it so much. Given that we spend such a large portion of our time doing something that may or may not fill us with passion, it would be wonderful if we at least did all that work in an environment and with a team whose attitudes and standards matched those of our own. It would be nice if the culture of our workplace was one that we felt was going to help us grow as a person. 

A good workplace culture is one in which team members support each other, where information is shared so that everyone understands the mission, where people can detach from their emotions and keep an open mind, and where every person on the team is afforded the opportunity to lead. Such a culture will keep people around despite the work being hard, the hours being long, or the location of the work being remote. In fact, a good workplace culture can diminish all of those negatives to the point that they almost don’t matter because the intangible, high-level needs of the team members are being met and exceeded. Needs like freedom, support, control, responsibility, and camaraderie. 

Unfortunately, many workplaces lack such a culture. Fortunately, however, the principles of Extreme Ownership give us the ability to improve that culture—not only for ourselves but for the entire team. This is because every person on the team is a leader of that team, and all of these leaders can lead and influence everyone around them—down, across, and up the chain of command. 

This begs the question, “How do you influence workplace culture?” Not only as a boss, but from any position on the team? Below are five steps that any person on the team can use to influence workplace culture. 

1. Build Relationships 

In order to affect any meaningful change in a team’s culture, you have to first be a member of that team. That doesn’t simply mean being included on the team’s roll. The rest of the team must see you as a member. You must show them that you are sincerely willing to put the needs of the team and the other people on that team before yourself, that you understand this team and how it works, and that you respect the team. 

Thus, prior to making any attempt to change the culture of a team, you must first take time to build relationships with your teammates. This may involve playing the game a good deal. You may have to adapt, to a certain degree, to the culture of the team you are on in order to show everyone else that you are a part of the team. When you do so, you are allowing the team to influence you. And, over time, when your relationships are strong enough, you can begin to influence them. 

When you want to influence work culture, start by building relationships. 

2. Perform

Once you have begun building relationships, you have to actually do well in your job. You have to contribute to the team’s mission. You have to be a high performer. This will allow you to influence workplace culture because people want to imitate high performers. They seek to do this because they themselves want to be high performers.  

In a Marine Corps combat engineer platoon, we were expected to be able to find improvised explosive devices under the most difficult of circumstances. In the desert, while tired, under stress, while under fire, it didn’t matter. And, those engineers who could find IEDs most effectively would constantly be getting asked about how they set up their metal detectors, what they were looking for when they were sweeping for IEDs, and how they determined what was and was not an IED. Then, the people who asked the questions would adopt those techniques. Slowly and surely, everyone in the platoon would start using them. And all the original Marine had to do to make that happen was do well at their job. 

So, when you are a high performer and execute regardless of the conditions you are presented with, without complaint, others will actively seek to be influenced by you. 

3. Ask Earnest Questions 

Cultures do not develop instantaneously, good or bad. It takes significant time and events to shift them. Thus, when you arrive at a workplace that has a less-than-ideal culture, you can almost guarantee that it didn’t become that way overnight. There may even be a multitude of reasons why this particular team does things this particular way.  

In order to influence that culture, you must understand how it became that way. In order to gain understanding, you must ask earnest questions. Earnest questions are questions that are meant to understand a situation truly. The way that they can work to influence workplace culture is that, once you are a respected member of the team, you can begin to try and understand aspects of the team’s culture that don’t quite make sense to you. You ask questions like, “Why do we do things this way?” “How does that behavior get us closer to our mission?” “How does doing this improve the team?” Sometimes, you may get a legitimate answer that clarifies that question and makes it clear to you that maybe nothing needs to change in that regard. However, sometimes you may also ask a question that the other members of the team can’t effectively answer for themselves. When that occurs, this is your opportunity to suggest a new way. Or, better yet, ask them if they can think of a better way. 

Asking earnest questions will allow you to understand the culture. And, through that understanding, you can begin to change it. 

4. Set the Standard 

In order to change, people have to see what is possible. In order for people to see what is possible, they have to be shown. Therefore, it is up to you to show them. You must set the standard of the culture you wish to see yourself. Then, when you gain influence and begin to perform, you can explain why you do things the way that you do them and how it benefits the team. You can do this by capturing and sharing stories of those on the team who have lived the culture you want to see. Then, partner that together with how their actions made the team better, and how that kind of behavior would benefit each team member individually as well. 

To influence workplace culture, you have to set the standard and tell the stories. 

5. Be Patient 

Change, like all things, takes time. The culture that you are a part of didn’t get that way overnight, and it won’t become what you want it to be in such a way, either. It takes consistent work and patience to create change in workplace culture. 

You have to also recognize that there is no such thing as a 100% perfect culture or a 100% perfect team. Despite how good a culture there is at your workplace, you will likely still have those on the team who do not want to meet the standard. That’s okay. If your culture is strong enough, such individuals will not affect the team and will likely self-select out of the team. 

As long as you continue to do the right things for the right reasons, build relationships, perform, ask questions, and set the standard, the culture in your workplace will begin to change. 

Conclusion 

Culture is what convinces people to stick with a team or a situation when conditions are at their toughest. It’s what allows the Marine Corps to continuously succeed in its yearly recruiting numbers despite being the least funded, least glamorous, and hardest fighting branch of the military. Culture is what allowed the Marine Corps to continue this trend despite many recruits knowing that they would be going to war where they would be risking death. 

Culture is the ultimate form of Decentralized Command. It is a guiding light for individuals who are in the field, under pressure, without communication with their higher leadership, to make decisions that will affect the outcome of the overall mission. Ultimately, you are the one who must set and influence the culture of your team in your workplace. You are a leader, and it is up to you to make this happen.

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