What is the Right Culture for Your Organization?

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The culture of ABS plays a fundamental role in our work environment and the outcomes for our clients. It is a set of guidelines and principles that guide our behaviors.

For ABS, it starts with our mission statement:

ABS makes biomedical research faster, easier, and more reliable.  We are an extension of clients’ laboratories, creating value for the research community, society, and ourselves.

This is engrained in everything that we do. There are many paths that one can choose. For us, it is important to do something that matters, that is of value both externally for the research community and internally for the type of company that we create for ourselves.

From an internal perspective, compensation, benefits, and job security are obviously an important basis for a good workplace. As important, is the type of environment that we work in and manage. It is the culture that we create.

ABS has staff ranging in ages from their early twenties to their sixties. How can these share a common culture? Much has been written about Generation X, Y, Baby-Boomers, etc. in the workplace and their differences. There are differences between generations; but the fundamentals across generations are more alike than different for the employees we seek.

The basics are simple. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Everyone wants to feel that what they do matters and that they are heard. Everyone wants to be treated fairly. This includes respecting and appreciating the differences that we may have, so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others or our common goals.

How we treat one another is a critical part of working at ABS. All of us have heard of or seen various business leaders who push and rant to drive performance. There may be situations where this works, but I have not in nearly three decades raised my voice to any employee. I do not want to be treated disrespectfully, and it is not acceptable at ABS to treat others in that way. At a minimum, basic manners such as greeting others, saying goodbye, please, thank you, etc. are expected.

When something does go wrong or there is a misunderstanding, our approach is not to find someone to blame. If an issue relates to actions that we are taking and results that we are trying to achieve, we first examine our processes and analyze how those processes and training may have produced or aggravated the issue. In fact, we have a process for this.

Drama, blaming, and negative attitudes are strongly discouraged. These only bring down morale, reduce objectivity, and inhibit the search for solutions.

If an issue is of an interpersonal nature, we first ask the parties involved to try and work out any differences or miscommunications. If that fails, then management becomes involved. If an issue is brought to management, the expectation is that it will be discussed with the parties involved directly.

If a problem exists with an individual, it is addressed with that individual or management and not with others who are not directly involved. We discourage gossip or raising issues about a person behind their back. Neither are productive or forthright. We don’t always achieve this, but it is the goal we strive to reach.

Openness and directness permeate our operations. Our financial records are open for all employees to view. Likewise, we make it a point of openly discussing major decisions and their rationales as well as long term goals and plans. High level complex decisions involve teams of management and technical employees to ensure that everyone who is affected is heard. There are no behind closed-door surprises.

We strive to bring differences of opinion to the surface. This can sometimes be considered as criticism, but it is essential to effectively solving problems and resolving concerns. In the right environment, when done respectfully, this approach increases the probability of effective decisions. In this regard, it helps to distinguish between opinions and data-based observations.

A participatory environment is encouraged. A new team member may have fresh insights that can inspire improvements. We encourage creativity and problem-solving. Change and improvement are viewed as our normal way of doing things rather than as disruptions.  

As we grow, it becomes more challenging to maintain this type of culture. Frequent interactions are easier with a group of ten or twenty, but it is increasingly difficult with a larger group. We have biweekly company sponsored lunches, potlucks, cooking competitions, birthday celebrations, summer and holiday parties, and peer to peer awards to help people get to know and appreciate one another. We are always looking for ways to maintain and improve our culture rather than allowing ABS to become a place where we come solely for a paycheck.

We think that the culture that we have created meets certain fundamental needs, but it may not be for everyone. Change, openness, and accountability are challenging, but also rewarding. Whatever the culture, it is important that it be examined and developed with intention. This increases the likelihood that it will produce an environment that benefits both staff and clients.

ABS is family friendly. We understand that there is more to life than work. This results in a highly motivated, extremely productive, and happy workforce. It impacts both our workplace and the results that we deliver to our clients. When it is necessary to go the extra mile, no one needs to mandate it. Our staff care about what they do, and they deliver more than is expected.

Do we always get it right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The next blog will discuss what we do when things do not go as intended and an employee is not a good fit for our culture or is not productive. This is a problem for all organizations and one of the most difficult for us when it happens.

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