Organisational Culture: How do you establish a culture, and how can you change it?
Organisational Culture is often viewed as something that cannot be controlled or created, thinking of it as simply the by-product of an organisation’s people and processes. In truth, the culture of an organisation is surprisingly tangible; it can be deliberately shaped and developed, and if done right, it can be a powerful competitive advantage. The value of organisational culture translates directly to your bottom line and its importance cannot be overstated.
The culture of an organisation is built from the accumulation of common beliefs, behaviours and the values of the people within a company. These norms determine everything, from how employees serve customers and interact amongst themselves, to whether they feel motivated to meet goals, and ultimately, whether they buy into the company’s overall mission.
Culture is fluid, and it needs to be grown and nurtured.
There is no ‘right answer’ when thinking about the culture of an organisation: every culture is unique. For some companies these are an internal concept only – helping drive the values and mission of an organisation and employee behaviour. It can be a very helpful measure when identifying potential candidates to join our team, and understand who will be the best fit. For others, companies may choose to take this further, and elevate their internal cultures to become part of their external identity, e.g. Facebook and Google.
‘Culture’ can be a nebulous concept, and it certainly not a solid and pre-determined ‘thing’. While the visible elements of a company culture might seem few, there is a huge amount that contributes to developing a shared and productive culture within an organisation. These ‘invisible’ contributors to organisational culture should not be ignored; indeed, they should all be given equal consideration.
Key components contributing to organisational culture include:
- People – Successful products and services are only possible because of the employees that make things happen. Hiring the right people and treating them well encourages the development of a powerful culture.
- Vision – Do people understand the primary stripped-down purpose behind everything they do? How does each role contribute to the greater good of the company? A vision that is authentic and clearly communicated, and tied to company objectives, can act as the glue that keeps everyone together and focused on the same goal.
- Values – These are the behaviours and mindsets needed to reach the vision. A clear set of values woven into an organisation’s culture can set the tone for employees. It’s not just about completing tasks, it’s about how things get done. Values are what drive how employees treat customers, each other, and members of the community. When teams share the same values and a common way of thinking and acting, their collaborative efforts are strengthened. As a result, productivity increases, and performance improves.
- Policies and Procedures – Consider whether current infrastructure, policies and procedures make it easier for employees to achieve their goals. Are there legacy systems or archaic processes that make things confusing and bureaucratic? The relative ease or difficulty of operating within a company’s processes can play a big role in defining its culture.
- Environment – The choice of workspace can reinforce a culture. From formal to casual, and closed to open workspaces, the architecture often influences more than just the look and feel, for example driving a sense of openness and modernity, or hierarchical tradition. Companies can even choose office location to be in tune with the kinds of candidates that they want to attract.
- Incentives – A lot can be implied about a company based upon the way it rewards, punishes, or ignores. Are incentives tied to behaviours, or results? Are goals clearly stated, or left for interpretation? It sends a loud signal about what’s truly important to an organisation. Research even proves that organisations are more successful and their people are more driven, when they have recognition-based cultures.
- Traditions/Heritage – Strong traditions that have shaped an organisation over time have a huge impact on how employees feel about working there. There are many prestigious organisations whose name recognition alone can be an important driver of organisational culture.
So how do you determine when it is time for a change? As a company grows, it is usual to see a range of shifts in culture and approach. This sometimes happens organically, but more often than not, needs a nudge in the right direction. There are a number of reasons that could drive the need for a change in organisational culture, whether it is a merger or acquisition, exponential growth of a start-up or advances in technology that require new staff or new skill sets. The latter is often intrinsically linked with a large-scale digital transformation program. Any of these can prompt an organisation to makes changes to overall mission or goals, and changing the culture can play a big role in helping achieve these changes.
Whatever the reason for culture change, leaders must be ready to make the necessary adjustments and be prepared for push-back and initial reluctance. When organisations proactively drive culture change with real dedication and calculated execution, the benefits can be extraordinary.
So, how do you make tangible changes to the culture of an organisation? Start by creating an action plan:
- Analyse your existing culture
Know exactly where you are before navigating to where you want to be. Get direct feedback from every level and department using surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
Find out what’s important to your employees and what inspires or frustrates them, and what would they change. This requires asking some tough questions and soliciting candid answers, so employees must be made to feel secure with no fears of retribution if the reviews are less than positive. Sometimes the answers might be difficult for leaders to hear, but those perspectives are critical.
- Develop a strategy for change
Having learnt what is and isn’t working, get creative! Formulate a strategy for making improvements, placing a focus on enabling your staff to achieve company vision and meet organisation goals.
Establish answers to the following:
- Where are the sticking points in your culture? How can you remove them?
- What factors are promoting engagement and loyalty? How can you strengthen those?
- Implement your unique strategy with real conviction
Be authentic and transparent – explain why it matters and how each person will personally benefit. Communicate clearly and often via a variety of channels.
Build the brand story: help your employees understand the brand narrative and emotionally become part of the story. Draw your employees in and enlist them as storytellers (brand ambassadors) to share the journey with your customers.
- Use leaders to drive the process
Culture change has to start at the top. Leaders need to be the first to understand the reasons for the change, so they need to get behind it, sell it, and drive it all the way down the organisational chart.
- Commit to consistency
Follow through on promises and prove your reliability. This is vital to ensure you do not lose the trust of your teams.
Culture change can be tough – getting together an action plan is the easy part! As with anything though, understanding where you are currently, and how your teams really feel, can put you in a great position to start moving forward.