The Frontline Supervisor's Role in Shaping Workplace Culture | SOS Podcast

The Frontline Supervisor's Role in Shaping Workplace Culture | SOS Podcast

Workplace culture has quickly become a topic of concern for many organizations. For some, it’s about preserving the past, and for others, it's about shaping the future. Regardless of where your organization may fall on this spectrum, the role supervisors play is instrumental and undeniable. In this episode, AEU LEAD Director Joe White outlines specific ways frontline leaders can step up to confront this emerging need.






The SOS Podcast is a production of AEU LEAD, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:
Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White, and this is the Supervisor Skills Secrets of Success podcast. Today's episode is number three in season four. It's also our 45th release since March 15th, 2021. As we approach our fourth year of production, I want to take a brief moment to thank all of our loyal listeners. We have a growing number of followers, and have seen a steady increase of subscribers from around the globe. To anyone joining us, no matter where you are, we appreciate your continued support to the show.

Our focus today is on workplace culture, a topic that so often flies below the radar for most. I hope to share some thoughts and ideas that help elevate its importance in terms of priorities most organizations now have. Consistent with our namesake and past practice, the perspective shared will be that from a frontline supervisor. To that end, let's jump right into it.

Regardless of the source, workplace culture is now trending as a topic of growing concern for most organizations. Deloitte, Korn Ferry and Workhuman have all committed significant resources towards the topic as an area of competency in consultation, and for good reason. Based on research conducted by Gartner, workplace culture now ranks number two on its top five priorities list for HR leaders in 2024. Putting this all into context is important, but for that to happen, it helps to ground ourselves on what exactly it is we're talking about.

Defined, workplace culture is the day-to-day attitudes, actions, behaviors, norms and rituals specifically unique to an individual organization. It's a corporate fingerprint of sorts. Functionally, workplace culture is represented in granular detail by how things get done.

How you recruit, onboard, and integrate incoming employees, as an example, differs from industry peers. In fact, it likely differs from location to location within a single organization. The way you communicate, solve problems, react to performance breakdowns, or recognize exceptional behavior are all factors shaping your culture. Given this explanation, why then is this topic so important? Consider the following. The average American will spend roughly one-third of their life at work. The workplace has a direct bearing on one's physical, mental and social wellbeing, impacting home life, health, and overall happiness. Where a positive workplace culture exists, people are drawn to it. Collaboration and problem solving are better, and teams work with one another far more effectively. Organizations with stronger cultures consistently outperform industry peers. They're also more capable of making needed changes, and tend to be more operationally resilient.

All said, a favorable workplace culture is a precursor to a healthy working environment. It's also a prerequisite to consistency in meeting performance objectives. Culture is what separates you from industry peers. It's part of your legacy that can be lost or impaired if not protected. Turnover rates remain high in most labor-dependent industries, and if you drill down, the churn primarily involves those with one to four years of service. This in part is highly reflective of tendencies with the incoming generation. The average length of service for generation Z is just over two years. By 2030, baby boomers will be essentially gone. These moving parts highlight the importance of today's topic as an area of needed attention in the months ahead.

So, what do you do? How do you, as a frontline supervisor, impact workplace culture? Here are several recommendations for consideration:


1. Embrace your role.

As a frontline leader, you have a profound and undeniable impact upon workplace culture. Given that it represents how things get done, it's not what you say, but what you do that matters most. Assess your daily routines, reflect on interactions with others, and be mindful of how you respond to performance deficiencies. In doing so, try to assume the perspective of those reporting to you. Most importantly, internalize your role at this moment in time. Are you contributing to a positive workplace culture or not?


2. Identify opportunities for improvement. 

Reflection is a precursor to realignment, and realignment requires follow-up and response if improvements are to be realized.

  • Where do opportunities to improve workplace culture exist within your areas of responsibility? 
  • What pain points are you aware of? 
  • Where do employees routinely express frustration? 

The answers to these questions should serve as a guide to a prioritized list for work to be done. In tackling improvement opportunities, consider the involvement of key stakeholders where their input could be helpful.


3. Collaborate on the issues.

An organization is nothing more than a network of people. The efficiency and effectiveness with which it operates is a direct reflection of the quality of relationships that exist within it. To resolve issues, move beyond barriers or address cultural pain points requires collaboration and mutual commitment from all involved. As a supervisor, share your thoughts and ideas, and ask for input from others. Identify steps that can be taken to help improve workplace culture, and hold one another accountable for making any and all needed changes.


4. Address non-conformities. 

Transformation requires dedication, discipline and accountability. These three requirements in practice are tools that can and should be used by all stakeholders. As a supervisor, you are accountable to yourself, to your employees, and to the organization for fostering a healthy workplace culture. In addition, your direct reports share the same lines of accountability. All should be comfortable pointing out behaviors detrimental to the culture, and everyone should be accepting of needed feedback when it's required.


5. Walk the talk.

As a supervisor, you're always on stage, and what your employees see in you matters. You must demonstrate through your actions the behaviors you expect to see in others. If cultural improvements are needed, you must lead the way. This requires walking the talk each and every day, and remaining steadfast on the commitments made to yourself and others.

Workplace culture is defined as how things get done. It's a unit of measure that separates you from industry peers, and is a means of gaining a competitive advantage over others. The topic is now trending, and is currently listed as a top-five priority for companies across all industries. Driven by transitions in the workforce, historically low unemployment rates, and tendencies among the incoming generation, workplace culture is now at risk. To preserve and protect corporate identity and brand through daily actions, supervisors must step up for this emerging need. In doing so, you must embrace the role, identify needs, and take action as required to preserve and protect those things that make you uniquely you.

Thank you for joining us. I hope this is a topic that will result in reflection, and one you're able to benefit from. We'll be back in April, and look forward to you joining us then. If you know of someone that could benefit from our topics of discussion, please forward a link with an endorsement for their consideration. Should you have any questions, or need additional information regarding our topic today, just let us know. Our contact information is provided in the show notes accompanying this episode. For those that may not have reviewed or rated your experience with our show, we would greatly appreciate you doing so. That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.

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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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