Organizational culture refers to a set of shared beliefs, values, and norms within an organization that shape the way its members perceive, interpret, and react to various environmental and relational conditions. Put simply, organizational culture represents a shared viewpoint that permeates an organization and it members.
Because culture provides guidance to organizational members on appropriate perceptions, behaviors, and values, it can dramatically influence organizational effectiveness and employee morale. When organizational culture is not well aligned with strategic goals and employee needs, negative consequences are likely to result.
When Good Intentions Go Wrong
Consequences of misaligned, dysfunctional cultures are particularly relevant in the context of contact centers, as culture can often be a source of dysfunction in these contexts. This results, in part, due to the nature of the work. Customer contact roles lend themselves to performance monitoring on a number of easily observed metrics (e.g., average handle time, repeat calls, sales per call, calls transferred, etc.). These metrics can be invaluable in providing insight into the success or failure of work policies and procedures. They can also be indicative of individual employee performance and can be used to set work goals, which can be extremely motivating when they are properly implemented and well aligned with other performance targets and organizational policies.
However, an exclusive focus on call metrics can come at the expense of other important factors. When organizational policies and decisions are driven solely by these numbers, contact center representatives may infer that these are the only important elements of their performance. For example, representatives may be less likely to engage in extra role behaviors (e.g., helping a co-worker, providing non-required support to customers, etc.), which can lead to a negative workplace culture. Further, constant performance monitoring and an exclusive focus on metrics may communicate distrust on the part of the organization, leading to a culture which does not encourage employee empowerment and involvement. The following details some common consequences of a dysfunctional organizational culture in the context of a contact center.
Dysfunctional organizational cultures can exert a negative impact on employee morale. Research indicates that these types of cultures lead to lower levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of both job strain and stress1. These factors are particularly important in a contact center environment, as contact centers often require employees to work during unfavorable hours, engage in repetitive tasks, and interact with disgruntled customers, each of which can also contribute to lowered employee morale. A positive organizational culture can help to mitigate these factors, promoting a healthy and satisfied workforce.
Given the strong impact of culture on employee morale, it should come as no surprise that dysfunctional cultures can also result in higher absenteeism and attrition. Research has confirmed the link between culture and withdrawal behaviors2. Employees who experience work dissatisfaction, stress, and strain as a result of poor organizational culture are likely to avoid work by calling in sick and eventually resigning. This can result in lost productivity, additional strain on remaining employees, and, as Rob Stilson explained in his blog on achieving retention, lost resources, in the form of training costs.
Organizational cultures can also impact employee performance in a number of ways3. Contact center culture serves to emphasize the important aspects of performance and foster motivation for high performance levels. The following represents a list of some of the contact center performance factors which are negatively impacted by dysfunctional cultures:
- Customer Service – Contact center representatives will be less likely to provide exceptional customer service when the contact center culture either does not promote customer service as a value or has led to lowered morale.
- Compliance – Similar to customer service, organizational culture will provide guidance to contact center representatives on appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. If rule and procedure compliance are not emphasized as organizational values, contact center representatives will be less likely to engage in these behaviors.
- Reputation – The reputation of an organization can also suffer when organizational cultures do not promote employee morale and customer satisfaction. Contact center representatives are in direct contact with customers. They have the ability to appease dissatisfied customers, promote organizational products and services, and maintain customer loyalty through their interactions with those customers. The opposite is also true; when representatives have negative impressions of their organization, those impressions are likely to influence their interactions with customers which can lead to negative customer impressions.
Creating a Positive Organizational Culture
Just as negative or misaligned organizational cultures can produce undesirable results, positive organizational cultures promote effective organizational functioning. Creating a positive culture involves a thoughtful and strategic plan for the communication of organizational values and norms. The following suggestions are designed to get an organization started on the road toward a positive and effective culture.
- Leadership – Consistent messaging and behaviors from contact center leaders will help to shape and reinforce the culture. Ensuring that leaders understand, accept, and promote organizational values and cultural initiatives will go a long way towards creating an effective culture.
- Metrics – A careful review of performance metrics and goals should help identify performance areas that are missed by the current performance evaluation system. These areas should be promoted and emphasized to ensure representatives are aware of other factors that also contribute to performance.
- Rewards – Employees make inferences about organizational values and culture based on the types of behaviors that are rewarded or discouraged. When rewards are linked to positive work behaviors, the culture will set a tone of recognizing and appreciating employee work and accomplishments.
- Involvement – As Rob indicated in his blog on retention, involvement is a key factor in contact center functioning. When representatives have the opportunity to become involved in the development and modification of work processes and policies, they will feel more committed to the organization and its values.
- Parker, C. P., Boris, B. B., Young, S. A., Huff, J. W., Altmann, R. A., Lacost, H. A., & Robers, J. E. (2003). Relationships between psychological climate perceptions and work outcomes: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24, 398-416.
- Sheridan, J. E. (1992). Organizational culture and employee retention. Academy of Management, 35, 1036-1056.
- Petty, M. M., Beadles, N. A., Lowery, C. M., Chapman, D. F., & Connell, D. W. (1995). Relationship between organizational culture and organizational performance. Psychological Reports, 76, 483-492.