Workplace blogs
Workplace blogs

Does a Culture Shift Always Begin at the Top?

The hilarious satirical website The Onion recently posted an article titled, “Man Returns To Work After Vacation With Fresh, Reenergized Hatred For Job.” I fear, sadly, that many people will find this headline funny because it hits too close to home. Even if you’re not returning from a vacation, you might be one of the many people who report feeling the “Sunday Night Blues” at the thought of returning back to work on any given Monday!

Several surveys of pensioners reveal that one of their regrets was not quitting jobs they despised sooner (if at all). But other surveys suggest that often it isn’t the job itself – more often

Two surgeons giving high five after a successful surgery and laughing together isolated on white background

than not it’s the dysfunctional workplace culture people feel trapped in that makes them miserable. And too often, front line employees feel powerless when it comes to having any influence over their workplace culture. Which is why I love the story of Mercy Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, recounted in Dr. John Izzo’s book, Stepping Up.

Mercy Hospital’s culture and morale had reached an all-time low. Customer service had deteriorated to the point that the hospital was losing market share. Then a remarkable thing happened. A group of front line employees decided it was 100% their responsibility to do something about it, and asked the CEO if they could meet weekly. The “Re-spiriting Committee” had no idea how they could change things, they just knew things had to change. For a year they shared stories and brainstormed ideas. They ultimately decided on reenergizing their culture through four principles, including “choose your attitude” and “make someone’s day.”

Within a relatively short time frame, the hospital’s employee engagement scores shot up, market share grew, and the hospital started winning quality awards. Mercy Hospital felt like a completely new place to work, one you wouldn’t dread returning to after a vacation.


Stories such as this are everywhere, so never doubt that real change can be driven at any level in a workplace or that simple changes at work can begin with you.  Here are a few ideas on how you can get started:

  • To improve your chances of success get your immediate boss on board. Stay positive, tell her/him why you think the initiative is important, and express your desire to get involved and contribute to the success of your organization.
  • Send out a survey (Survey Monkey is a simple and free option) to fellow employees or teammates to gauge the level of interest or feedback in pursuing a culture “re-energizing squad.”
  • Reach across departments. To break down those nasty “silos” and increase your chance of success reach across departments and find like-minded, enthusiastic people to partner with.
  • Do your homework: Compile books, articles, and case studies that support the need to grow a better culture.
  • Organize a series of “culture chat ‘n chew” coffee breaks or weekly luncheons where people brainstorm ideas or make short presentations related to your culture.
  • Offer to create a system for collecting employees’ ideas on how to improve the workplace culture.
  • Offer to hold a monthly “pet peeve summit”: An employee-driven meeting where employees share their pet peeves about the culture with a focus only on those things that they have 100% control over (i.e. that don’t require approval or influence from “the boss”).
  • Suggest a monthly culture theme to get everyone focused on a similar topic. For suggestions check out these Monthly Workplace Themes.
  • Don’t try to overreach. You’re not going to change things overnight, so start slowly with some simple, achievable goals to build momentum and buzz and that align with your organization’s vision, mission and values.

Do you have a suggestion? I’d love to hear your ideas below on what you have done or tried in your workplace to drive a culture shift from the ground up?

Michael Kerr 2018. Michael is an international Hall of Fame business speaker, motivational keynote speaker, trainer, executive coach and author of six books, including The Humor Advantage.  For great ideas to improve your culture be sure to sign up for Michael’s raved about weekly e-zine, Humor at Work.






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