How to map out a strategy to build a culture of respect

How to map out a strategy to build a culture of respect

In this week’s guest post, Sonya Law explains how to map out a strategy to build a culture of respect in your organization. Respect helps us to treat our most valuable resource – our people – in a way that shows they matter within our organisation.

We will explore how respect is fundamental to building a robust and resilient culture from which to thrive and contribute positively to the wellbeing of employees and deliver a positive customer experience…

As a new employee, we learn respect when we first enter an organisation and this experience is shaped by three things:

  1. Top Management
  2. Observed culture
  3. Teammates.

Top Management

Induction and onboarding are designed to give new employees a road map to follow, on how to get things done in the organisation, who to go to, what tools to use, processes to follow, all forms of our early experiences of culture.

As human beings, we are social animals and we want to fit in and will observe behaviours, language, and actions of all employees.

However, we take most of our cues from top management because we think that if they have made it to the top, they must exhibit the behaviours that we must mimic to be successful too.

Observed culture

It is common to find that when you start with a company what you observe is very different from what you read on their website or were told in the interview.  The number one question employees ask themselves in the induction process is:  Have I made the right decision to join this company? New employees then go on a fact-finding mission to seek evidence that supports their decision to join the company or not?

If what they experience is too much of a shift and they don’t feel respected and supported in their efforts, it will be short-lived and they may leave. High turnover in the probation period is often a mismatch with what was promised at the interview and experienced.  Many people leave a poor culture for a promise of a better one and when it does not live up to what they expected it can have dire consequences.


Teammates will project their own experience of the culture having either a positive or negative impact on the newcomer.  An example of a negative onboarding experience would be: when you observe a teammate speaking to a customer disrespectfully and later that day your manager points out that they are a high performer and you should model yourself on them because they are the top salesperson.  This is quite common in organisation where managers will overlook employee’s disrespectful behaviour because they are the top sales performer.

Leaving new employees to their own devices to assimilate and adapt to the new culture is fraught with risk when these three factors are negatively at play, top management, observed culture and teammates.

Tips for assimilating to the culture for the new employee, keep it simple:

  • Adapt – take your time to adjust to the new culture, be accommodating, take lots of notes and develop good habits early on. Don’t get drawn into the politics.
  • Time – take the time to get to know people and build good working relationships. Don’t make snap judgments of people.
  • Speak up – seek support and ask questions when you don’t understand something by raising concerns early you will gain some valuable insights into how open they are to feedback and dynamic they are in coming up with solutions. Remember it is a trial for both employee and employer.

The following are some tips for human resources leaders to orientate the organisation towards a more respectful culture:

Culture is pervasive, it must be driven from the top and have the 100% commitment of human resources and top management to reset the culture towards a more respectful one that is robust and resilient.

  • Role modelling at top management what respect looks like.
  • Accountability framework for those who don’t show respect.
  • Empowering employees to have a voice when respect is not shown.
  • Developing an understanding of what respect is and what it looks like through education and training at all levels of the organisation.

The items that can sabotage a culture of respect are:

  • Employees not feeling safe – to give upward feedback to top management.
  • No clear framework or process for giving feedback – handling grievances and reporting incidents.
  • Self-serving behaviors – ambitious employees who want to look good and progress in their careers and lack awareness about their negative behaviors and impact on others.
  • Disengaged employees – wanting to fly under the radar and appear busy even if they aren’t, to avoid bringing attention to themselves and being in the firing line.
  • Good employees who are mistreated – because they point out disrespectful behaviour.

The wellbeing of employees:

We have heard it many times, organisations that thrive are courageous, they respectfully discuss differences and have a framework to value the opinions of others, respond to feedback, grievances, and incidents in the workplace. These organisations have a culture that is respectful, robust, and resilient. When people feel respected and safe to raise concerns organisations can thrive and it contributes positively to the wellbeing of all employees.

How to map out a strategy to build a culture of respect in your organisation:

  1. Phase one: Gather employee feedback from various business contexts that mirror your organisation and culture – in the way people communicate, specifically relating to respect:
  • Culture surveys
  • Conduct in meetings, interviews, customer interactions
  • Qualitative assessment of induction and onboarding process
  • End of Year Performance review meetings
  • Experiences of giving and receiving difficult feedback and dealing with conflict, is it respectful?
  • Grievance process and employees’ experiences
  • Exit interview data
  • Customer insights survey
  • Seek, social media reviews
  • Behaviors observed on offsite conferences, Christmas parties, and trade shows, etc.
  1. Phase two: Analysis of the feedback to determine the themes that emerge on what respect is in the organisation, current and where you want it to be a future state at senior management level.
  2. Phase three:
  • Define what respectful behaviour is in your organisation, what it is, and what it isn’t in various business contexts, relating to your business environment.
  • Incorporate it into your code of conduct and communicate this to new employees and the wider employee groups.
  • Clear messaging in the communications plan that building a respectful culture is everyone’s responsibility and we all play a part.
  • The accountability framework sits with top management for ensuring that it is robust and resilient and not a tick the box exercise.
  • Leaders to draw a line of sight to customer satisfaction – that as individuals we are not bigger than the organisation, that the support and respect we show each other, will flow through to delivering a positive customer experience.
  • Consider strategies incorporating it into systems and practices like performance reviews that form part of merit and evaluation processes for reward and recognition programs.
  • A scorecard approach for evaluating various business contexts where people meet, for example, business meetings – did we communicate respectfully and engage in a discussion about it listening to each other’s point of view. This methodology could be applied to other business contexts.

Look after your people, treat them with respect and they will treat your customers with respect…

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