Building a strong culture from the inside out
Who is responsible for the culture of your organisation? Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question! You see, organisational culture is a living, growing and ever-changing thing.
As such, it’s affected by every action and interaction, every decision and potentially every person who comes into contact with it either directly or indirectly. So, could it be said that because its sphere of influence is so wide, everyone or no one is responsible for business culture?
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The truth is that whilst everyone does have a part to play in building and maintaining a strong culture, unless there is a guiding hand then the chances are that the culture will be less than ideal. And that guiding hand, that direction, has to come from the leadership team.
Let’s look at an example. In the next article in this series we’ll delve deeply into the idea of hiring for cultural fit so let’s put the employee conversation to one side for now and look at what happens when we appoint a supplier.
Is the temptation to simply go for the lowest price? Sometimes that may well be the best option. However, price should not be the only factor with product specification, attitude, delivery and reputation all playing their part. So if the relationship between supplier and company is poor, if products are not delivered on time or to specification, in fact if any aspects of the supplier relationship negatively impacts on the business; then inevitably it can have a knock-on effect not only on the business’s ability to provide great customer service, but also on its internal culture.
It’s hard for an employee to be fully engaged when faced with customers complaining that the product is faulty
After all, it’s hard for an employee to be fully engaged when faced with customers complaining that the product is faulty, line managers censuring them for failing to meet customer expectations and suppliers refusing to answer the phone or spinning them a line.
Cultural due diligence (which we will explore in the fourth article in this series) should have highlighted whether the relationship was likely to be beneficial or not. More importantly, the supplier relationship should have been built to include an understanding and expectation of organisational culture and values.
The leadership effect
Putting aside the external relationships which can affect the culture; within the organisation itself the attitude and expectations of leaders can have a profound effect on the direction of the culture. In our book, Building a Culture of Innovation, we comment on the fact that if it’s not on the top team’s agenda, it’s not going to be in the culture.
That remark doesn’t simply apply to cultures of innovation. Quite frankly, the leadership team can draw up all of the policy statements, strategies and values that they like but unless they are prepared to ‘walk the walk’ then all they have done is waste their time on rhetoric.
- You can’t promote collaboration unless you are prepared to work with others and listen.
- You can’t promote innovation if at the same time you censure people for trying new things.
- You can’t promote customer service if you target volume of calls rather than satisfied customers.
Quite simply, leading by example has never been more important than when you are trying to build and maintain a strong culture. But that is one side of the story. Example can only go so far and if you haven’t created the conditions which will enable your people to engage with the culture then you have failed in your mission.
The first stage in building engagement is to recognise that you need to take your people on the cultural journey which you yourself have been on. You may put a lot of hard work into devising the strategy and working out how that will translate into values, beliefs and behaviours but if you simply stand up and announce that tomorrow things are going to be different, your people are understandably going to be more than a little resistant.
So you have to take them on the journey, working to engage them in the change and to understand at a deep level not only what change will bring but the positive outcomes which will arise as the result of change. One way to do this is through the 4Es methodology.
- Educate. Start off by educating your people not only as to the changes but also by helping them to understand why the change is important to them, the business and its customers.
- Engage. Culture change is no longer something is done to people. Rather that you need to work with your people and in collaboration with them; helping them to assimilate new ethos into their working lives.
- Empower. Through empowerment your people cease to be near necessary expenses within the business and start to be proactive supporters of the business; using their judgement to make decisions in line with the desired culture.
- Enable. Building on empowerment, when you give your people the right tools such as communication, decision making and taking responsibility then they will not only embrace change but actively become supporters of a strong and positive culture.
Once you take people on the initial change journey you can start to devolve responsibility to them, deploying a self managed engagement programme. This will turn engagement into a self managed motivational journey, making your people the guardians of the culture. But make no mistake, no matter how engaged your employees, no matter how proactive they are in driving innovation and customer excellence, leaderships are still responsible for ensuring that the culture not only stays on track but also remains future fit.
Formerly head of HR for Goldman Sachs France and Switzerland and with 16 years experience working in change management for various investment banks across the globe, Jo Geraghty brings a wealth of practitioner experience to change projects. She is co-author of the book “...