By Christopher Henry, MSW
Organization Climate* shifts moment to moment, actively influencing the productivity of your team. Predicated on Dr. David McClelland’s research into human motivation, George Litwin and Robert Stringer developed a way in which to measure Organizational Climate and its impact on productivity. Through extensive research, Litwin and Stringer were able to isolate several success indicators for the workplace. SSCA uses six of their primary variables to evaluate and influence the climate of an organization: Conformity, Responsibility, Standards, Rewards, Clarity, and Sense of Team.
As a leader, one of the most effective places to begin is with the Clarity dimension. Clarity is potent because once roles, goals, and lines of authority are drawn, people know the “why” behind what they are doing and how their role fits into the larger organizational picture. In an achievement-aroused organization, where all pistons are firing, it’s critical that people know what they are doing and why. It induces motivation.
As a former employee of non-profit institutions, I can attest to the way in which Clarity has impacted my desire to achieve while in previous roles. In one position, I worked in a large bureaucracy with limited communication. I had seven binders of procedures at my desk – so one would think I had clarity. However, the rules, regulations, and procedures did not align with the overall goals of the organization and there was no clear reasoning behind the procedures. Therefore, it seemed to me that I had to conform to valueless policies that actually inhibited me from doing the job.
The Conformity dimension, in short, can be described as rules, regulations, and procedures that do not add value. In that environment, the rules appeared to have no value and I was unable to find anyone who took interest in changing my views on the subject. My perception remained: I had to follow unnecessary rules, regulations, and procedures to get the job done. I was often frustrated because I spent more time weeding through paperwork than I did performing my role.
True, in the workplace there are many rules that we all must follow in order to fulfill our responsibilities. But the rules, regulations, and procedures in an organization must make sense to those who must follow them. They ought to be explained so they are seen as a necessary standard rather than a burdensome conformity.
Because of this requirement to conform, the Responsibility dimension in that climate was impacted. While the organization’s goals were aligned with my stated goals, my everyday responsibilities were not in service to either. Unclear as to why there was misalignment, I asked. The answer I received clouded things even more. I got the impression that they didn’t know either. With that uncertainty, I did not want to assume more responsibility because the lack of clarity in the goals and my role meant that expectations were constantly changing. I would have been much more likely to give discretionary effort if I knew my role and how it directly fit into the larger picture. Wouldn’t you? Instead, I neither invested in the process nor the organization’s outcomes.
This scenario was especially unfortunate because I believed in the purported mission of the organization. My perception and experience could’ve been a world different if only it were clear how I could contribute through my role to the bottom-line of the organization. Instead, I did not sense that I was or could play an integral role in generating the outcomes I was passionate about. I didn’t sense that I was part of something bigger, which was the whole reason I’d joined the company. Consequently, my initial enthusiasm began to dissipate and I became cynical.
Without a clear understanding of the “big picture” and how the rules, regulations, and procedures facilitated my function, I did not perceive those rules as a Standard (the definition of doing good, thorough work). This is where the dynamic interaction among the dimensions becomes critical. If appropriately clarified, a leader can change what may appear to be high Conformity into high Standards. If employees understand why rules and procedures exist, they are more likely to perceive them as standards for performance, rather than conformity (rules of no value). When challenging, realistic standards are in place, and employees perceive the rules of the organization to be an important part of meeting the standards, they are more likely to seek and accept responsibility. Wouldn’t you be?
When people seek and accept responsibility and have clarity of roles, goals, and expectations, they are far more likely to hit targets and be results-driven. The key to replicating this is to provide real-time feedback and offer praise for a specific job well done. This brings us to the Rewards dimension. In general, when people think of rewards in the workplace, they think of the tangibles (typically the financial ones). Research suggests that, if an organization is compensating at fair market rate, financial incentives are a short-term and shortsighted approach to increasing morale and productivity. Performance-related rewards, including more praise than criticism related to a specific job well done will, over time, have a more dramatic impact on productivity than throwing more money at the symptom.
Low Conformity, high Responsibility, high Standards, moderate to high Rewards, and high Clarity will result in high Sense of Team, the final dimension. While each dimension can, and in many instances should, stand alone, you can get a greater bang for your buck by looking at climate as being organic.
There are clearly dynamic interrelationships between the dimensions and small interventions can influence big outcomes. This model allows leaders the opportunity to get results pinpointing the causes rather than just the symptoms of worker morale and poor results.
* the measurable variables in a culture that impact motivation