Civility and Workplace Culture

Introducing the Workplace Culture Continuum 

By Christian Masotti

Throughout my career in manufacturing, I cannot tell you how many times I have been instructed by a supervisor or manager to “Go out there and change the culture.” Workplace culture – specifically, how to fix it – has been an ongoing challenge in almost every manufacturing organization I have worked with. 

While many leaders do in fact understand that it is people – particularly the people at the top – who set the tone for culture, many do not realize that teaching supervisors and managers how to improve the day-to-day experience of the people living and working in the organization can have tremendous impact. Improvement starts with paying attention. 

Through observation, I have learned that employees’ behaviours hint at how much they trust leadership, how safe they feel, and how engaged they are.I have also identified specific indicators, including error rates, time to complete tasks, safety, absenteeism, quality, and productivity, which can predict overall accountability. 

Generally, supervisors are accountable for managing the people-side of manufacturing so teaching supervisors how to identify, assess, and address these indicators, and then teaching them the root cause of those indicators and how to address them can help manage performance and change workplace culture. 

With the help of my colleague and co-author, civility expert Lewena Bayer, we have been able to devise a tool for tracking and addressing these behaviours. 

The Culture Indicator Continuum enables organizations to understand how common behaviours observed on the manufacturing floor (and other workplaces) correlate with overall measures of civility. 

Based on previous work completed by our team (and validated by research conducted by Weber Shadwick), it has been established that incivility has direct and measurable impact on retention, safety, productivity, morale, and the bottom line. When trust is low, engagement is low.

Engagement according to our definition refers to intentional, conscious “buying-in” on the part of employees such that because they trust the organization, they choose to come to work, contribute in a meaningful way, do more than they are required to, support their coworkers, and believe in what the organization stands for and is trying to achieve, even when things are difficult. 

Combining the Civility Experts research and my field expertise, we have identified that it is possible to move individual employees through the continuum if supervisors and leaders are able to: 

• Set clear expectations for accountability

• Observe the employee on the job 

• Identify “off-standard” behavior

• Assess the cause of the behavior 

• Give feedback (positive or negative) 

In addition, the organization overall must support and require that leaders have a “learning mindset.” Specifically, supervisors/managers must adopt an attitude whereby they: 

• assume they can (and will) learn something 

• are willing to admit when they do not know something 

• do not make assumptions about why people may or may not immediately help/support them

• remember how important it is to earn trust 

• agree that respect is something everyone deserves 

• acknowledge the intellect and experience of others 

• ask how they can help the other person 

• speak in facts and info 

• thank people for trusting them and doing the right thing 

• credit (in presence and/or to others) those who support and help them 

Once this civil attitude has been established, and when it is exhibited consistently, leaders build trust with their teams such that they are more successful in their communications and coaching, and they are able to move employees along the continuum. 

How to use the continuum as a continuous learning tool

1. The workplace can assess each supervisor’s team, e.g., identify where on the grid the individuals sit and identify a pattern. 

2. Based on the pattern (e.g., a cluster around a negative state), supervisors can be made aware of: 

a. Behaviours or conditions to which they are contributing that are resulting in the indicators 

b. Behaviours to watch for in individual employees 

3. Leaders can be trained in what to watch for, what it means, and how to address it 

4. Employees can be trained in specific skill areas that will enable them to move through the stages. 

A key message for supervisors and managers is that if your teams are not performing well, this is a direct reflection on you. A supervisor MUST be held accountable for these issues. Specifically, aspects of expectation for people management should be written right into supervisors’ performance evaluations. 

Christian Masotti is the leading expert on civility in manufacturing and consultant with Civility Experts Inc. With decades of industry experience with some of the world’s largest manufacturers, he is a continuous learner who combines technical skills in continuous improvement with social intelligence and cultural competence. He is author of three books: Manufacturing Civility, Social Competence for Manufacturing Supervisors, and co-author of Lean on Civility: Strategies for Changing Culture in Manufacturing Workplaces.