In a three-part series, Mark Ellis - Director of CultureTransform - offers expert guidance on transforming company culture and increasing employee engagement. He looks at key ways in which to improve organisational culture, how people analytics can help gain budget for deeper cultural change and, finally, how technology ‘noise’ in the workplace is harmful for mental health, wellbeing and innovation.
While most people join companies for the job and the salary, they stay there because of the culture. Deep down, most of us want to be part of a group that has the same belief systems and passions. Financial rewards are necessary, but they don’t actually make us loyal or happy in the long term.
There’s no such thing as a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ culture. If you’re in the technology field, you may want to work for Apple, but not for Microsoft. Or for Google, but not Facebook. Twitter not Oracle.
A big part of this is down to how you perceive the company’s culture from the outside, which is why employer branding is so important.
One of the biggest influencers of culture is how well you can engage your employees. This means assuming that people are smart, motivated and can contribute great ideas and good work to your company - and then trying to create an environment where they feel good about doing all of those things.
Why should you take control of your culture?
Before you ask about ways to 'control’ culture, you have to understand why people would want to. Almost all businesses want to do this to save money or make money. The biggest savings come from reducing voluntary attrition (staff turnover where people just hand in their resignation). The biggest benefit comes from attracting the best people, and then getting the most from them.
Make sure that employees are never punished for being honest - nothing kills culture faster.
Other benefits? Engaged employees take half as many sick days according to the CIPD and there is plenty of other research showing better stock market performance, increased innovation and a decrease in workplace accidents.
So, how do you start to control the culture of your organisation?
1 The closest influencers that people have are their manager and their peers
If you want a consistent culture then make sure your managers are appropriately trained - this will be different in the Navy Seals than it would be in a Starbucks, or in the IT Department of Ford, or in the England Rugby team.
The trick is making sure that your manager training fits the culture you already have or the culture that your company aspires to. Dramatically inconsistent management approaches are often the root cause of performance issues.
2 Measure your employees’ perceptions of their managers
Most companies have a clear vision and values statement - these could be expected behaviours, core values, a strategic vision or a mission statement. When you join a company, you expect to be working towards a common goal within this framework. So measure how close to the behaviours on the wall each of your managers is seen to act.
Asking for your employees’ opinions, and then sharing the results, keeps people motivated to share further information. But make sure that whatever the feedback is, employees are never punished for being honest - nothing kills culture faster.
3 Act on employee suggestions
A manager who asks for help, ideas or advice from their team and then does nothing with it will never get anything of value from their team. If you are asked ‘how would you do this better?’ and nobody listens, why would you answer the question the next time? Scaled up to an organisational level, this tends to be the predominant reason that employee opinion surveys don’t work well.
4 Don't make exceptions for the best performers
Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, famously once said “Don’t tolerate brilliant jerks”. He meant that sometimes in your teams the best performers can be rule breakers that pay no attention to culture and annoy those around them (while typically getting away with this behaviour).
Although there is a place in all teams for occasional heroics, if you have people that consistently annoy others then they will drive their teammates to leave the company, and send a message that the ‘values’ are just words. This will cost you far more than keeping the bad influence.
5 Measure the effects of your culture change
You can come up with multiple ways to control culture, but unless you know which ones work it’s all pointless. You can do this by looking at employee engagement levels, looking at the results of management perception (point two above), or analysing where the highest employee turnover is.
Take a step back, assess your current organisational culture and compare that to the business plan - then start your journey.
Measuring the effects, and talking to employees about them, will likely drive people towards the right cultural behaviour - and, of course, acting on what you measure is critical.
6 Get the hiring process right
Make sure that you explain to people at interview stage what the culture of the company is.
In an ideal world, you should test them either with skilled interview techniques or appropriate tests to check they fit. Getting control of cultural influence this early is good management practice - and will reduce early attrition.
Start by assessing your current culture
These six points on how to change your culture are all effective ways to steer the ship in the right direction. But most of the companies I work with have no idea of what their dominant culture is, or what it supports - and different divisions and regional offices demonstrate different flavours of that culture and different levels of engagement.
So before you start anything, make sure that you know exactly where you are starting from, and where you are going. Take a step back, assess your current organisational culture and compare that to the business plan - then start your journey.
About Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis is the author of Digitox: How To Find A Healthy Balance For Your Family’s Digital Diet, a book all about making yourself and your family happier, healthier, safer and smarter in a society that increasingly demands constant, unsustainable attention.
Mark was given his first computer aged 10. After graduating with a first class honours degree in Business Studies & Technology he joined Dun & Bradstreet and has since spent over two decades in the technology and software industry, working all over the world for several multi billion dollar companies.
He now spends time helping large innovative corporations get the best from their people as a leadership & culture consultant and shares his experiences at Oxford Brookes University as an Associate Lecturer. He is also a professional conference chair, working alongside production teams to provide a safe pair of hands and ensuring a consistently professional (and engaging) experience for delegates and speakers during events.
Mark has been a guest on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today program, BBC Radio Oxford and Jack FM and together with his family has also been featured in the national press, both in the UK and the USA - and in other publications including Grazia and Oxford Life Magazine.
Outside of his professional life, he is a co-founder of Red Trouser Day, a charity raising money for bowel cancer research and a co-founder of FLTR coffee, a not for profit coffee shop in the heart of a local housing development.
He has been married to Caroline for twenty years, and together they have four children and a dog called Shelby.
His best selling book, Digitox is the story behind Mark and his family’s decision to create “Tech free Sunday’s”. A day where there is no Internet usage – by choice. Meaning no email, social networking, texting or You Tube. Not even checking the weather forecast. The book covers their experiences over a three-year period and highlights the challenges; benefits and the pitfalls that they feel could have been avoided.