Symbols and culture

I visited a new site today to catch up with an old contact. Upon entry to the site I was greeted with a warm smile from the lady at the front counter. She paused for a moment to take in a request from the guy I was meeting, asking one or two explanatory questions.  When we decided to stay on site rather than head off site for coffee, she handed us some coffee cups, again with a big smile : “here, you’ll need these”.

A few minutes later, we were bang smack in the middle of an evacuation drill. I stood there, on the verge, holding two full, hot cups of coffee as my contact went off to perform his warden duties.  A random employee approached me and asked if I needed any help, could he take one of the cups for me.  Meanwhile, other employees chatted amongst each other – I heard compliments and laughter.

Upon returning to the site post all the drill excitement, we sat in the lunchroom.  One employee came in and teased my contact about his birthday yesterday. Another asked who was bringing in the cupcakes that day.

A large pool table dominated the lunchroom, and this was put to good use for a quick game by two employees. One left, and when he returned he laughed off any suggestions that the balls would have been moved whilst he was away : “we don’t cheat around here” and “we trust each other”.  My contact explained that everyone plays pool, and that they all play each other.

The employees all wore uniforms that were freshly laundered; crisp and clean. The site was neat, tidy and clean, if a little dated. People came and went and did their business, efficiently and with a smile.

My overall sense just listening, observing and watching was that this was an organisation that values teamwork. An organisation that recruits for cultural and organisational fit. And organisation that is not flashy with its money or how it spends it, but will spend it wisely and where necessary.

So, it was no real surprise to hear that the site is a market leader. That is has a very healthy profit margin. That it has ambitious expansion plans. In short, that it is a success.

I’ve written before about symbols in the workplace. And as always, I was struck by how much you can tell about an organisation by simply being observant.  What does your workplace say about your business? Is it telling the story you want it to?

story telling, symbols, cultural change,

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