Influencing ‘Corporate Culture’

Robert Ordever
O.C. Tanner Limited
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We hear a lot about ‘corporate culture’. Every organisation has one, recruiters want to find candidates to ‘fit into it’ and people are so influenced by it that it can impact every working hour of every working day. It’s a key influencer on every organisation and yet many view it as an ‘intangible’ that cannot be easily managed or changed. Perhaps the idea of trying to influence culture is seen as ‘a step too far’ by many leaders, and instead they concentrate on managing the more ‘tangible’ (and less impactful) elements of organisational life.

But ‘corporate culture’ CAN be defined, managed and altered. It shouldn’t be feared and needs to be tackled ‘head-on’ by organisational leaders. In fact, ground-breaking research by The O.C. Tanner Institute, which involved focus groups across six countries and a quantitative survey involving 9,622 respondents across 12 countries, has pin-pointed a handful of key elements that make-up ‘corporate culture’. And so leaders can now understand the building blocks which influence culture, ensuring that it is an environment which attracts top talent and inspires employees to want to stay and strive for greatness. These ‘building blocks’ can be broken down into six key ‘aspects’.

The first of these is ‘purpose’. To achieve a successful culture, the company needs a firm idea of what it does and what it’s striving to achieve. This then needs to be clearly communicated to employees so that they understand where they fit into ‘the big picture’. Some organisational leaders will think that having a company vision or mission statement framed and hung on the office wall ticks this box, but it’s about living and breathing the company’s purpose so that it resonates with ALL employees.

Opportunity’ is another influencing factor. Organisations need to provide employees with a range of opportunities to help them to grow and develop. This isn’t just about career progression, it’s about all manner of opportunities that provide challenges and learnings.  It could be as simple as encouraging staff to make connections outside of their departments, assigning them special projects to break-up their day-to-day workload or allowing them to influence key decisions.

It’s also important to consider ‘success’. Employees want to feel as though they’re working for ‘a winning team’ or that the organisation is ‘going places’. No-one wants to feel as though their company is just another, indistinct “me too!” This feeling of ‘success’ needs to permeate the company from the ‘top down’, running through everything the company does to ensure a positive and highly motivated workforce. It’s about leaders allowing their employees to innovate and revel in both successes and failures, and it’s about encouraging teams to reach their goals and inspiring them to bring their very best work to the table.

Worryingly, too few organisations recognise the importance of the fourth ‘aspect’ – ‘appreciation’. Showing someone that they are valued is incredibly powerful and is key to a happy and productive workforce. We’re not talking about the occasional ‘pat on the back’ or end-of-year bonus, but frequent, timely and sincere appreciation by leaders and peers when staff demonstrate a ‘job well done’. Sadly, we hear time and time again about those organisations that don’t genuinely appreciate their staff. With almost half of employees believing their organisation takes them and other employees for granted (O.C. Tanner Institute research), a lot needs to be done to get staff recognition right!

Wellbeing’ is currently a ‘hot topic’ and is the fifth key aspect, but how can organisations go about achieving good employee wellbeing? Most workplace wellbeing programmes exclusively focus on the physical health of employees as this is the easiest to influence. However, employers need to consider people’s emotional, social and financial needs in addition to their physical health. The most impactful way to do this is to promote a healthy environment, allowing people to have ‘down time’ during the working day and making it acceptable for people to have occasional days off to recharge their batteries.  Working long hours should be discouraged rather than praised and when employees are on holiday, it needs to be standard practice to divert all their emails and phone calls so that they can have a proper rest. Those organisations that help their employees to achieve a good work-life balance will benefit from a more engaged workforce.

Finally, ‘leadership’ is key to shaping corporate culture. When asked, most people can recall at least one poor leader who has negatively impacted their working life. Poor leaders come in all shapes and sizes but typically they boss their teams around rather than mentor them, take credit for success and don’t allow their staff to have responsibilities. A bad leader reflects directly on the company because, in many cases, it represents the larger relationship an employee has with the organisation. By ensuring leaders are trained to deliver mentorship, engender trust, share responsibility, collaborate and give recognition, this will provide the foundations of a successful company culture.

Leaders can’t force their staff to be loyal and motivated, this comes from the corporate culture. And creating a successful culture is not a fluke, six key factors are largely responsible and so by closely examining each aspect and influencing change in each case, leaders can create the organisational culture they desire.

The O.C. Tanner white paper ‘The 6 Essential Aspects of Workplace Culture to Focus on Today’ which discusses the full research can be downloaded here

About Robert Ordever

Robert Ordever

Robert joined O.C. Tanner in August 2014. From luxury retail at Harrods to Premier League football with Fulham FC, Robert's HR and operational background has given him a real passion for creating a workplace culture that truly gets the best out of its teams. 

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