The Blue Kite Blog

How to Influence Culture When You’re Not in Charge

By | September 19, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, I led a workshop at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. I spoke about why healthy organizational culture matters and how CCDA leaders can cultivate a strong culture within their own organization.

At the end of my talk, I received this question:

“What do you do if you don’t have the authority or position to make changes to your culture?”

That’s a good question, my friends. And it’s one I’ve heard many times before.

This question speaks to why I did a workshop in the first place and why we focus on helping organizations with their culture at Blue Kite.

We believe people at every level of an organization should understand the importance of their company’s culture. We also believe leaders must be the champion of their company’s culture.

But we understand that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the leader of an organization doesn’t see how the culture affects the employees, the customers and the business.

This is especially problematic when employees believe they have an unhealthy workplace, but don’t feel empowered to change it. As a result, it leads to burnout, frustration, high turnover and bad attitudes. And ultimately, it can create a negative impact on your bottom line.

Sound familiar?

If so, you’re not alone. But, you don’t have to feel helpless and stuck. There is something you can do about it.

3 Ways Employees Can Influence Culture

Changing the culture at an organization is never an easy task – especially if you’re not in a leadership position at your company. However, there are some things that every employee can do to affect company culture.

Consider these three tips for how to influence your company culture when you’re not in charge:

1. Identify where you do have influence.

Just because you don’t have CEO in your title doesn’t mean you don’t have influence in your organization. You can still influence your workplace even without the authority.

Pause for a moment and consider your role within your organization. What is in your sphere of influence? Consider where you do have impact and focus on how you can affect that.

For instance, do you manage a small team? You can work on creating the best culture for your team within the space that you have.

Work with what you have and you may get noticed. Other employees will start thinking, “Wow that team has fun, they like to work with each other, they seem more engaged. I want to be a part of that.” Your leadership team will start to notice happier, healthier and more engaged employees.

Even if you do not supervise anyone, you still have influence. How can you be an example of what healthy culture looks like? Are there changes you can make in your behavior, actions or attitude? How can you contribute to the solution? Be the example of what an excellent employee can look like in the context where you are. Maybe you can begin to create a positive example for your friends and colleagues at work.

We all have the ability to influence those around us. Consider what is in your sphere of influence and affect that.

2. Use tools to prove a culture problem.

Leaders have a lot on their mind and many of them consider culture a luxury. They often think that it’s something that can be focused on when there’s more time, money and resources. Or they don’t understand how strong culture positively affects their business.

Many leaders don’t see the culture of their company clearly. Because they are so immersed in it each day, they don’t recognize the culture is being created by default instead of by design.

Because leaders value measurement and data, consider using tools or collecting data that will help show your leadership team that there might be problem areas that need to be addressed within your organization.

We created just the thing for that with our Culture Scorecard. If you manage a small team, start there and have each team member take it. Then bring the results to your boss to show where there are opportunities for improvement.

This can open the conversation up to ask if your whole staff can take the Culture Scorecard and show the results. This is an unbiased way to evaluate your culture and illustrate that it should be a priority.

You can also show your boss how investing in culture positively affects the bottomline of your business. Tools like the Employee Engagement ROI tool from OfficeVibe shows how much money your company could save by focusing on employee engagement. Engaged employees create a stronger culture.

3. Communicate that there is a problem.

One sign of a strong culture is intentional communication. Start working towards that by actually communicating with your leaders that there is a problem.

This step gets overlooked too often when employees are unhappy at their job. It’s way easier to complain to colleagues instead of doing something about the problem. And as a result, the organization becomes a breeding ground for frustration, resentment and tension.

But we encourage you to take the conversation to your leadership. Remember, all complaints should flow up, not down. Speaking with your boss is not easy and it can be scary. But communicating directly and intentionally about this is important. After all, leaders might not realize there is a problem unless you speak up.

This does not mean just complaining about the culture or only expressing your frustration. Make a plan and think about how you can communicate with leaders. For instance, you can explain how you feel influenced by the culture and because you love your job or believe in this company you want it to be a great place to work.

A few things to keep in mind when you approach this conversation:

  • Be solution-oriented;
  • Focus on facts and be prepared with examples for how you see the culture as unhealthy;
  • Offer steps that could be taken to improve the culture;
  • Identify barriers and have ideas to eliminate them; and
  • Have information (you can use the tools mentioned above) to support the need for change.

Employees Can Influence Culture

Influencing your culture when you are not in charge is not easy. It will take patience and perseverance. But if it means a healthier workplace, that effort will be worth it.

A final thing to consider is this: If you have taken steps to positively influence your company, if you’ve communicated in a clear and concise way the need for change and nothing improves, it may be time to move on.

When there’s a toxic environment that isn’t conducive to leading a healthy life, sometimes we have to make the difficult choice to leave to find a place that is a better fit.

Unfortunately, not all leaders understand the importance of cultivating a healthy culture. When that’s the case, use these tips to do your best at influencing a strong and healthy culture at your organization.

You might just make your organization a better place to do great work. At least, we certainly hope so!