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Three Keys to Improve Lab Culture

Three Keys to Improve Lab Culture

The culture should represent what values are most important to the lab

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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All workplaces have a culture. It can be difficult to learn for new teammates, but it gets more comfortable the longer you stay. The culture of an organization says a lot about it. The culture indicates what is important, what people care about, and how to behave. Many people think that the organizational culture is fixed. However, the culture around any lab is fluid and can be changed. The lab manager has a significant influence on the lab culture and can alter it to better reflect the values, purpose, and mission of the lab.  Here are three tips that will help you improve the culture of your lab, and make it more reflective of what is important to you.

#1 – What do we care about?

Culture comes from the Latin word cultus, to care. The culture of a lab is what the people there care about. So, what does your lab care about? What are the very most important things? Make these things clearly visible in the culture of the lab. If you find that the current culture of the lab isn’t well aligned with the things you care about most, then it’s time to start changing the culture to build that alignment. Otherwise, the culture and the values of the lab will be in conflict, sending mixed messages to the staff and stakeholders.

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#2 – Drive the culture

In The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle points to three different areas to improve the culture of the workplace: ensuring safety, showing vulnerability, and driving purpose. Most labs are already pretty good at ensuring physical safety, now it is up to the lab manager to build emotional and psychological safety, too. Showing vulnerability allows others to help you and enables deeper relationships with staff to develop. Showing vulnerability helps develop a culture that values help, learning, and accountability. Incorporating clear purpose into the lab’s culture answers the big “why” questions, like why do we work so hard? A clear purpose builds engagement, boosts motivation, and improves retention.

#3 – Own the culture

Leaders own the culture of their labs. If you don’t like the current culture in your lab, it’s time to change it. Start by ensuring safety, showing vulnerability, and driving purpose. Then add to the culture the things that make your lab special. Emphasize the interactions and relationships that help you get up for work every day.

The culture of a lab shows everyone what is important there. Drive the culture in your lab to show off the things that are great about it, and why it is a successful, fun place to work.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to our conversations. Thanks.