Guest Blogger: Health Enhancement Systems
We’ve worked with clients who have set somewhat ambiguous goals to “work on the culture.” When we ask what that means, there’s a momentary pause, then the list materializes in their mind: “Things like vending machine policies, alignment with our food service vendor, tying organization health goals to business goals, stretch breaks, you know…”
While all of these are worthwhile in their own right, they completely miss the point that culture isn’t something you do, it’s everything you do (For more, read Achieving a Culture of Health or Creating a Culture of Happiness). A culture is defined by what is expected of people and what is valued. It’s the sum total of all actions every employee lives day in and day out — from the boardroom to the assembly line. It’s what a company does when profits are pouring in and when a deep recession hits. It’s how managers treat subordinates when the pressure is on as well as when things are going smoothly.
“Working on” a culture of health by following a list of tasks may be precisely the wrong approach because — just like many management initiatives — it can feel like another program-of-the-month. Employees have seen them come and go, so they either play along to get along or sit on the sidelines, waiting this one out. But changing a culture to one where employees embrace the idea of wellness and voluntarily make healthy choices is a slow build. It can’t be imposed from above with mandates. You can’t take a shortcut with financial incentives or disincentives. You can’t get there with the proper “messaging.” And you can’t reach it by throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
If culture is everything an organization does, how can you can you begin to influence it toward better health? After all, you can’t work on everything (pause for a moment and let that sink in) … and you shouldn’t. In fact, if you ask managers and work groups to work on more than 1 thing related to moving toward a healthy culture, your chances of failure go up exponentially.
What’s the 1 Thing to Work on?
If we can convince a client not to take the list approach, but to start with just 1 thing that can begin to influence culture, the immediate question is “Okay, what’s the 1 thing?” Our answer — it doesn’t matter — almost always disappoints. They’re looking for the stone tablets, the Holy Grail, the wisdom of Yoda to tell them they should build walking trails, rewrite every manager’s job description to include responsibility for health, have the CEO make a proclamation, or some other magic bullet that will set them on the path to organizational wellness.
But what you work on first really doesn’t matter. How you decide what to work on does. Ownership of the goal is the key. Because while culture is everything an organization does, what has the greatest impact on individuals are the things in their immediate sphere of influence. The typical worker can’t do anything about wellness benefits, but they can commit to group stretch breaks twice a shift, or a healthy potluck once a month, or a department exercise goal for the quarter. So develop a method for each work group to create their own first step toward a culture of health. Encourage them to keep it simple yet sufficiently challenging, so there’s a true sense of accomplishment — something each worker can point to and say “Yeah, we did that… and what I contributed was important.” You can give them ideas if they ask for help, but the group needs to own the goal, not have it imposed.
Not 1 and Done
Once the group goal is achieved, they need immediate recognition and confirmation that it’s something to build on and sustain — the foundation for a new group goal. The beauty of this approach, where each employee has ownership of the group’s health goal, is that it becomes self-perpetuating. Success begets success. Individuals become fully invested in the group succeeding because it’s their goal too. And in time, without ever actually “working on culture,” you’re moving toward Achieving a Culture of Health.
Guest Blogger: Health Enhancement Systems