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To change company’s culture, be clear

One concern managers have about a training seminar is what happens the next day. Or the next. Or the next. How do they keep the learning experienced in the seminar alive? In my field, how do they make etiquette a part of workplace culture?

It’s not easy to change a culture, but it can be done. I had one client who had about 250 individuals scheduled to attend my business etiquette seminar in groups of about 30. The first group comprised senior staff including the CEO. At the appointed hour, no one was in the room. It took about 20 more minutes before all participants were present. There was much apologizing and hemming and hawing about how it was routine for people to arrive late to meetings.

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Interestingly, management wanted to change the company’s culture but weren’t sure how to go about doing it. I suggested everyone from the CEO on down would be expected to arrive on time and meetings would begin on time. No one would be held accountable for past transgressions, but from here on in, “on time” was the rule. I pointed out that for my etiquette seminars, it was really important that people arrive on time. We only had two hours and losing 20 minutes to lateness was a real problem — not to mention a dollar loss to the company.

A couple of days later, I held the second session. About 80 percent of the people were in their seats at the appointed time. They were quick to point out that the message had gotten out that they should be on time. I started the seminar as scheduled and the rest of the group trickled in after the seminar had begun.

For them, entering a session that had already started was uncomfortable, but it was a good object lesson about being on time. By the third session, everyone was on time.

The key here is to set standards and expectations. Certainly, those standards and expectations ought to be reasonable, and, they need to be explained clearly.

Once standards and expectations are established, it’s important that the rules are followed by everyone — including top executives — and enforced consistently. It does no good to set expectations for employees that management are not held to as well.

By clearly stating expectations, following through,and holding everyone accountable, the company was able to change its culture. Being on time became a company trademark.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to ­
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