Three tips to building a kick-ass cultureby
Culture looks different now, so how can HR ensure it truly fosters a positive workplace for all its people?
Senior HR leaders have started echoing their counterparts in other managerial roles, stating that ‘company culture is deteriorating’ year after year and that employees are less ‘loyal’ than ever before.
Navigating work in a post-pandemic world is proving to be somewhat more challenging than most had anticipated. Being faced with our mortality has had us all asking questions about what is truly important to us and it has shifted our priorities as a global collective.
Culture is a living, breathing entity and it changes over time
Survey after survey tells us that people care more about flexibility, wellness and purpose than ever before. As people re-evaluate their priorities and take stock of their values, they’re increasingly aware of just how fragile this human experience is. Nobody wants to spend their time being unhappy and unappreciated in a job they hate, at a company that would replace them in an instant. It’s not a 'lack of loyalty' to employers. It’s an increased commitment to wellbeing and survival.
Everything looks different through this new, more authentic and vulnerable human lens – including workplace culture.
Let’s get clear on culture
Unfortunately, most people still don’t understand what workplace culture really means. It’s not about the fun stuff like the pizza Fridays or the ping pong table in the break room. Culture is much less glamorous and far more nuanced. Culture is a living, breathing entity and it changes over time.
Your workplace culture lives in the tiny moments that, when repeated, become ‘the way we do things around here’.
The building blocks of culture
Countless models and guidelines exist to help make sense of culture. In its simplest form, culture consists of five core building blocks:
1. Purpose and Values
Simon Sinek famously reminded us to ‘start with why’ and link back to the core purpose. It’s easy to explain what your company does and how you go about achieving goals. But why do you exist? What is the big vision or inspiring idea? What values do you believe in and champion above all else?
2. Company Structure and Size
How your organisation is designed and structured, how many employees and work sites you have and where your teams are based, cannot be ignored. The same culture that worked in the startup phase, doesn’t usually translate at scale when you find yourself employing 35,000 employees on seven different continents and you have the hierarchies, structure and complexity associated with being a multinational company.
3. Decision Making
Autonomy is a hot topic in HR and leadership circles. It’s impossible to have a more agile, learning or innovation-driven business when there is a huge hierarchy and a chain of decision-makers who might even be competing with or contradicting each other.
4. Rituals and Practices
‘The way we do things around here’ is clearly reflected in a business's everyday practices and rituals. How is information shared? What is the approach to learning and innovation? How are successes celebrated?
How people treat each other at work, speaks volumes. Is there an environment focused on collaboration, nurturing and support? Or is it more ‘every person for themselves’? What is the attitude towards customers? To what extent do your employees feel like they are included or that they truly belong? Is it safe to ask for help or hold differing views and opinions? Or is it best to stay silent and keep your head down?
Carefully considering and evaluating these five building blocks, should give you some insight into the type of culture within your organisation. Do not be surprised if it is considerably different to what your values purport or what senior leadership hopes or believes it to be.
It’s time to genuinely start caring about wellbeing, flexibility and work-life balance
The simple truth is that you cannot have an agile, innovative and entrepreneurial culture if the systems and processes rely heavily on hierarchy and a chain of command.
Similarly, your culture is not going to be collaborative and supportive if teams are working in silos and competing with each other for resources or recognition. You can paste values like ‘innovation’ or ‘empathy’ wherever you’d like around your offices. It won’t change anything.
Get clear on the reality of what your culture truly is and how that differs from what you would like it to be and get to work on the transformation efforts to bridge that gap.
Building back better
No matter the type and scale of cultural transformation you may have on your hands, you can make huge strides and improvements with a few tweaks, consistently applied at all levels in your organisation.
Here are the top three culture cheat codes you should prioritise this year:
With the increase in hybrid working and work from anywhere (WFX), people feel increasingly lonely and isolated. They crave connection to purpose and meaning, as well as to the ‘mothership’ and other humans. Help make or facilitate those connections that build relationships and focus on things other than work.
It’s time to genuinely start caring about wellbeing, flexibility and work-life balance. With burnout and mental health challenges increasing globally, inclusion and psychological safety are more important than ever.
Everyone likes to feel ‘seen’ and know their efforts are appreciated. Don’t wait for annual performance appraisals or bonus time. Make a point of celebrating even the small wins – not just in your team, but throughout the company. A win for one team is a win for everyone.
As we recover from a global pandemic, we have the opportunity to improve and finally start getting culture right. Let’s not mess it up again by getting caught up in outdated beliefs and narratives which keep us from building the future of work.