4 Steps to Creating a Civil Culture at Work

Gustavo Grodnitzky Culture Trumps Everything, Organizational Culture, Organizational Effectiveness

In last week’s blog, we discussed the high cost of incivility in a workplace culture. This week, I’d like to discuss some ways you can create a more civil culture.

  1. Set a Destination

An ancient Chinese proverb states, “If we don’t decide where we’re going, we’re bound to end up where we’re headed.” Creating a culture of civility requires leaders to decide where to go, or, more specifically, to decide what a culture of civility looks like.

To be clear, this does not mean “Let’s go to a leadership off-site, come up with a definition of civility for the company, put our creation on a plaque next to our mission statement, and call it a day.” This is the most consistent mistake leadership teams make with many initiatives. Employee buy-in begins by talking to employees across your organization. I have emphasized begins because employees should be involved throughout the process. Ask employees what specific principles and behaviors they associate with civility and want to see in their workplace. When you involve employees in this process, they will own it and will hold each other accountable for the behaviors that come from it. They will protect, defend and help grow what they feel is their own.

  1. Assess Your Culture

If I were going to your office for the very first time and got lost, I’d have to call you for directions. The first question you would ask me is, “Where are you?” You can’t begin the journey of a culture shift without first knowing where you are. After you select a destination (the civil behaviors the members of your culture want to see and display), the next thing to discuss is where you are currently as a culture. How far are you from the behaviors and culture you want to see? What behaviors do you need to see more of? What behaviors do you need to see less of?

  1. Create a Civility GPS

Global Positioning System (GPS) works through a network of about 30 satellites that orbit the Earth. The satellites talk to each other, and to your GPS receiver, to keep you on track to your destination.

Creating a civility GPS means that every member of the culture becomes like a GPS satellite.  Each person becomes responsible and accountable for holding themselves and each other to the principles of civil behavior you have all agreed upon. During daily interactions, everyone should feel empowered to make statements that reinforce your civil culture and reward civil behavior. A few examples:

  • We don’t do that here.
  • That’s not how we roll here.
  • This is how we interact here.
  • This is how we operate here.
  • These are the next steps in this situation.
  • Great response in a challenging situation. You really understand our culture.
  • That was a values and culture based interaction. It is very much appreciated.
  • Well done! That’s really living our culture!


  1. Provide Coaching and Training

Do not assume that behaving civilly is just practicing common sense or that everyone knows what civility look like. Both executives and employees will face emotional situations that challenge their desire or ability to behave within the bounds of your culture of civility.

Two important skills associated with civility in adverse situations are empathy and communication. People want to hurt others when they feel hurt. If a person is acting in an uncivil manner, it is often because they themselves feel hurt or like they have not been treated with civility.

The best way to create empathy in this situation to ensure that your employees are well trained and coached in active listening. They also need the ability to offer feedback, both positive and developmental, in a way that the receiver can hear it. This can be particularly difficult in an emotionally charged situation. Practicing empathy can de-escalate the charged emotions, helping everyone involved to better hear and understand each other and to behave more civilly.

For employees to learn these skills, they must be given opportunities to see them, practice them (first in emotionally neutral situations and then in emotionally charged situations) and, ultimately, teach them to other members of the culture.

Civility in a culture can be taught, practiced, reinforced and established. Consistent civility is much more about the culture you create than the people you bring into your culture. When you build a strong culture, members will adapt to it, be pushed out because they can’t or won’t adapt, or self-select out. All of these conditions help you successfully build a better culture.

If you have questions on this post or any previous post, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.

Keep cultivating your culture!