One of the responsibilities of senior leadership is to create respectful cultural norms. Respect is a precondition for everyone in the organization to work together effectively. In my career, I have been lucky to work in organizations whose leaders understood this, but my husband has not always been so fortunate.  

At Value Capture, we use three questions, crafted by Paul O’Neill, Sr., as a litmus test for how our organization is doing with respectful cultural norms. I’d like to compare my work experiences and my husband’s experience against these questions to demonstrate how these norms impact quality, safety, as well as employee and customer satisfaction.  

Am I treated with dignity and respect by everyone I encounter?  

The first question asks whether we are treated with respect and dignity by everyone we encounter, regardless of role or job title, age, or any other factor.

I have never once answered “no” to this question during my time at Value Capture.

Our team recognizes that everyone has a unique role to play, and we need each of our perspectives to do our best work. Respecting each other underlies the psychologically safe environment to freely share our different perspectives. 

My husband, on the other hand, who works as an assembler in a factory, often complains that the way people are treated in his organization differs depending on their rank in the company and, most often, the number of years they have worked there. He has told me many times that newer employees are treated poorly by others on the factory floor and largely ignored by management.  

These completely opposite experiences have a huge impact on how we each look at and feel about our jobs and our organizations. I generally feel excited about sharing projects and ideas with others on the Value Capture team. My husband strives to go to work and get as much done as possible, allowing him to avoid interaction with anyone.  

Our team is asked every week, via a “pulse check” survey, if we can answer yes to the three questions that I’m sharing and explaining in this post. 

Am I given the things I need so I can contribute to the work of the institution that gives meaning to my life?  

Another indicator of respectful cultural norms is whether everyone is given what they need to do their job. This refers to things like education, training, tools, encouragement, and protection from risks. The kicker here is that staff are able to contribute in a way that gives meaning to them, not just the employer.  

I can routinely say “yes” to this question as well. If I don’t have a tool necessary for me to do my job, I can ask and am able to get it. I am not only provided with training from inside the organization, but if I want to enhance my knowledge or skills via outside training, Value Capture is accommodating.  

Even more important to me than tools and training is the fact that I am always encouraged to try things by all members of the team, and leaders allow me to take reasonable risks without fear of any form of retribution. The encouragement and support to be the best in my area adds meaning to my life because I want to do my job well, and even more, I believe in our mission and sharing the good work of healthcare organizations.  

I can’t even believe the experiences my husband has had. He tells stories about having to search for the tools that he needs, and even getting punished because production was down during the search. He describes the training that he and other assemblers receive as minimal. Often, they are shown how to do things once and are handed a blueprint, being left then to their own devices.  

I can’t remember a time when he mentioned a manager providing any type of encouragement to anyone. In fact, he says they rarely receive feedback of any kind, whether things are going right, or going wrong.  

Am I recognized for what I do by someone whose opinion matters to me?  

Another indication that an organization has effectively created respectful cultural norms is that staff members are recognized for their work. Recognition goes a long way in making employees feel needed and valued, and ultimately, respected.  

Like many organizations that practice continuous improvement, we have processes in place to recognize team members for their work. Our team is very good at recognizing the big and small things that others do each week, which is nice.  

But even more important to me, our leaders and team members take the time to provide positive feedback to me on a regular basis. Sometimes a team member reads a blog I wrote and sends me an email to let me know they liked it, or they give me a call to tell me that a new brochure was very helpful to them and customers, or they give feedback on how a process that I created is helping them.

These may seem like small things, but when team members take a few minutes to let me know that my work is valued by them, it helps me feel connected and respected.  

Remember how I said my husband never receives feedback? Well, it is pretty safe to assume that he has never once told me about a time when anyone at his organization recognized his work. If he or his teammates achieve their production goals, nobody says a word; they just increase the goal for the following week and send them off to help in other areas.  

If someone has an idea to improve a process, they are usually shut down because “that is not how we do things here.” The lack of recognition or feedback of any kind leads to an apathetic attitude towards work that has been noticeable to me on the few occasions I have stopped by the job site.  

So why am I sharing all of this with you?  

It’s simple, the things mentioned in this blog post are not very difficult to accomplish, but they make all the difference in company culture, and that will ultimately lead to better results.  

So why doesn’t the leadership at my husband’s company do something about it?  

My guess is that they have no idea what kind of conditions are created by not focusing on these things and creating respectful cultural norms. Or even worse, maybe they think they already have a respectful work culture, but don’t go to the “gemba” (the actual workplace) to see the culture (as demonstrated by the actions of others) for themselves.  

I imagine that any leader wants people in their organization to answer “yes” to these questions, on some level. But, without a process to collect this feedback and understand where the organization stands, how can you know whether respectful cultural norms have been successfully created?  

Without respectful cultural norms, continuous improvement and habitual excellence are impossible.  

To learn more about how to get started on building a culture of continuous improvement to achieve habitual excellence, check out our guided self-assessment.    

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