Edgar Schein, a professor emirates at MIT”s sloan school, has shown with his popular “three level’s of culture” model, the most deeply entrenched elements of organisational culture are the least visible. Take, for instance, the deep underline assumption that pitting employees against one another gets the best work out of them that is not the kind of thing managers publicise, sometimes they are even unaware that they are fostering this dynamic. And yet it is felt by leaders and employees alike. While it may result in healthy competition, it is just as likely to create a strong culture of envy, which can erode trust and undermine employees ability to collaborate.
Emotional cultures in action
Nearly thirty years ago the social psychologist Phil Shaver and his colleagues found that people can reliably distinguish among 135 emotions. But understanding the most basic ones – Joy, Love, Anger, Fear, Sadness – is a good place to start for any leader trying to manage emotional culture. Here are a few examples to illustrate how these emotions can play out in organisations.
A Culture of Joy
Let us begin with one that is often clearly articulated and actively re-inforced by management – above the surface and easy to spot. Vail resorts recognises that cultivating joy among employees helps customers have fun too, Which matters a lot in the hospitality business. It also gives the organisation an edge in retaining top talent in an extremely competitive industry. “Have Fun” is listed as a company value and modelled by Vail’s CEO Rob Katez – who, for instance, had ice water dumped on his head during a corporate ALS Ice Bucket challenge and then jumped fully clothed into a pool. About two fifty executives and other employees followed his lead.
This playful spirit at the top permeates Vail, management tactics, special outings, celebrations and rewards all support the emotional culture. Resort managers consistently model joy and prescribe it for their teams. During the work day they give out pins when they notice employees spontaneously having fun or helping others enjoy their jobs. Rather than asking people to follow standardised customer service scripts, the shell every one to go out there and have fun. Mark Gasta. the company’s chief people officer says he regularly sees ski lift operators dancing and making jokes doing whatever it takes to have fun and entertain the guest, while ensuring a safe experience on the slopes. On a day to day basis, Vail encourages employees to collaborate because as Gasta points out, leaving people out is not fun. At an annual ceremony, A have Fun award goes to who ever led that year’s best initiative promoting fun at work. The resort also fosters off the job joy with first tracks (First access to the ski slopes for employees), adventure trips and frequent social gatherings.
A Culture of Compassionate Love
Another emotion we have examined extensively one that is common in life but rarely mentioned by name in organisation – is Compassionate Love. This is the degree of affection, caring and compassion that employees feel and express toward one another.
In a sixteen month study of a large long term care facility on the east coast, we found that workers in units with strong cultures of compassionate love had lower absenteeism, less burnout and greater team work and job satisfaction than their colleagues in other units. Employees also performed their work better, as demonstrated by more satisfied patients, better patient’s mood and fewer unnecessary trip emergency room. (Employee who’s disposition were positive to begin with received an extra performance boost from the culture) The families of patients in units with stronger cultures of compassionate love reported higher satisfaction with the facility. These results show a powerful connection between emotional culture and business performance.
A Culture of Fear
Of course, organisation can be defined by negative emotions as well. In turn they ship around! the retired navy captain L David Marquet describes how a culture of fear played the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear submarine that suffered under extreme command and control leadership before he took over. The crew had low morale and the worst retention rate in the fleet.
Nuclear submarines must accomplish their mission while maintaining security and safety, so performance depends in large part on the skill and judgement of the crew. Marquet argues that the constant fear of being yelled at – for making mistakes, not knowing things, challenging authority and so on – made it harder for sailors to think well and act quickly. This view is backed by research that the Berkeley’s professor Emeritus Barry Staw and his colleagues have done on threat rigidity ( the tendency to narrow once focus under threat) and by findings on the impact of excessive stress on the pre frontal cortex : it impairs executive functions such as judgement, memory and implies control.
Marquet changed that emotional culture by using classic high involvement management techniques, such as empowering crew members to make decisions and not punishing them for every misstep. As a result, they became more confident and accountable – and less inclined to simply wait for permission or directions from there commanding officer. The transformation paid off. Marquet lead the ship from low performing to award winning, and ten of his top twenty officer later went on to become submarine captains.