Character is the Foundation of Workplace Culture

Monday, February 1 2021

A positive workplace culture is recognized as key to the continued success of organizations and more attention is being paid to working on defining the desired culture, rather than letting it simply evolve. Many resources have been poured into creating cultures that attract, retain, and inspire top talent. However, organizations too often focus on tangibles like lounges, video game machines, and flexible work hours, while missing the factors that truly matter in defining a culture.

If we apply the concept of Character Ethic versus Personality Ethic from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to workplace culture, we could say that the fun environment represents the personality traits of the workplace.  As Covey points out, the Personality Ethic relates to the surface-level behaviours that allow us to influence people and get what we want. Being charming and knowing the right things to say only go so far and often only work in the short-term.

When defining the culture, we need to focus on Character Ethic, those foundational behaviours that instill trust and lead to thriving relationships. Character is where culture truly manifests. The pinball machine and open bar may be enticing, but no electronic device or free drink can make up for a lack of trust.

You can create the culture you want.

Leaders play a significant role in building a positive culture based on Character Ethic. It is imperative for an organization to clearly define the role of the leaders and evaluate them based on key character traits that contribute to positive cultures. The articulated expectations can include:

  • Integrity
    • Your leaders are honest and demonstrate strong moral principles
  • Courage
    • They will venture into difficult situations and take on challenges
  • Patience
    • Leaders will tolerate delay, remain calm and not become annoyed when dealing with problems
  • Hard work
    • They will put in a great deal of effort
  • Empathy
    • Your leaders will have the skills and take the time to understand the feelings of others

If you are a leader it is critical that you evaluate your own character and determine how you are contributing to the culture of your team and the organization.  Personality traits only go so far.  A strong culture, one that will retain great people, is a product of the foundational character traits that leaders possess.  Create the culture you want by focusing in on those traits.