How to influence Company Culture
Culture is the environment that surrounds you at work and is a powerful element that shapes your work area, relationships and processes. In many ways it is like an identify or personality, made up of values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes and behaviours shared by a group of people working together with generally unwritten or unspoken rules. Culture is especially influenced by the organisation’s founder, executives, and other managerial staff because of their role in strategic direction and decision making. It can often be gauged by listening to conversations around the water cooler!
It is said that one in every three mergers fail, often due to a miss-match of cultures, and as a result organisations experience high attrition rates and a downturn in productivity and efficiency. In a business partnership or during a Merger and Acquisition companies often look to work with organisations which exhibit similar characteristics, language, values, beliefs and behaviours.
Many CEOs in the US talk regularly about the importance of culture as ‘a norm of accountability which will help make your organization successful. A norm of spectacular customer service will sell your products and engage your employees.’
Culture is a word used to describe the behaviours that represent norms in the work environment. It is not usually defined as either good or bad, although aspects of a company’s culture are likely to support or impede growth, progress and success. Culture is learned, as employees copy and perform certain behaviours through either the rewards or negative consequences that follow their behaviour. When behaviour is rewarded it is repeated and the association eventually becomes part of the culture. A simple ‘thank you’ from an executive for work performed in a particular manner can mould the culture.
If ‘normal’ working hours for managers are from 08:00 until 19:00 with emails answered outside work, then that becomes the norm and any new recruit will quickly realise that they will probably need to work the same hours in order to progress within the company. Similarly there is increasing pressure for team members to adhere to the company culture both in and outside work, and those who do not partake in work nights out are sometimes identified as not being engaged or not team players.
According to recent surveys up to 87% of organisations regard culture and engagement as one of their key challenges. You can understand why when Gallup studies cite 13% of the workforce actively looking for another role, over 50% not willing to recommend their company to their peer group, and only 12% of companies believing that their organisation is effectively driving the desired culture. It is proven that companies which provide meaningful work and good benefits enjoy higher levels of engagement and become more profitable leading to a positive cycle of attracting and retaining top talent.
With the increasing use and influence of social media a company’s workplace has become completely transparent with employees now having a similar influence to customers. So if the employees are happy and positive about the organisation then more people will be attracted to work there. According to Deloitte: ‘Corporate cultures are being continuously debated, shaped and redefined on social networks.’
Culture tends to originate from the top of an organisation and yet many leaders are still unware of how to embed the company’s vision, mission, values, competencies and associated behaviours. Many team members are still unaware of their company’s strategy and how their role relates to the company’s overall objectives. For an individual, understanding how their work tasks contribute to the success of the company is proven to increase levels of engagement and productivity.
Nowadays the embedding of company values is becoming more challenging as the workplace becomes more complex. Many employees often work in cross-functional teams and managers often have dotted line responsibilities for individuals working on a variety of projects. Communication, flexibility, learning and empowerment are even more important in this type of environment. This exposure to different countries, cultures, processes, projects and teams can have a large impact on a company’s culture.
Emotional contagion has been identified as a potential barrier to improving a company’s culture and performance. If a leader or manager is toxic and constantly undermining the executive team and their decisions then this attitude transfers to team members who can quickly disengage. During times of immense change some corporates enlist the assistance and support of champions of change, or culture champions, in order to demonstrate positive and productive behaviours and attitudes to change.
Leadership drives culture which in turn drives performance. An annual survey is no longer enough to assess engagement levels. Other assessments such as pulse surveys and a 360 Feedback Review can help to identify key areas for development and encourage a more open and honest culture where giving and receiving constructive feedback is the norm. If the customer isn’t mentioned at all during 360 Feedback Reviews then employees are often not living the company values such as providing ‘Customer Excellence.’
Leadership Development, Executive Coaching and Management Training can all assist in embedding and aligning new company values, competencies and behaviours. Processes, policies and systems, including Performance Management, Talent Management and Recognition should all be aligned to underpin the company values and create the desired culture.