Organisational culture development: An essential guide

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Organisational culture development: An essential guide

Having in place the right organisational culture is crucial to business fortunes. In truth, it always has been. But in an age when so many employees work remotely, where managers need to oversee disparate teams and where senior leaders can appear (and sometimes, sadly actually are) very far removed from those on the front line, it is now even more so.

But how do you know if your current culture is fit for purpose, where do you start? Do your people experience an open and inclusive employee experience, where they feel free to speak up? Do you have a set of cultural values that resonate with people and that are role-modelled by leaders? These are importantly building blocks to put in place, and I’ll show you how…

How can you assess your current organisational culture?

According to Deloitte, culture is the third highest HR priority for businesses. But what do companies need to do to ensure their culture is helping them to attract and engage the right people? It’s not about turning a storeroom into a games room or offering employees free fruit or drinks. These are perks and the culture is so much more than this.

Rather, it is a reflection of the company’s values and what it stands for. Or, as I saw workplace culture rather neatly (and simply) described as:

“It is the way we do things around here, even when nobody is looking.”

But how can you measure that definitively? You could choose to run a culture audit. This is something we have supported a number of clients with, usually in the form of a survey diagnostic with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. This can help to:

  • Give you a useful ‘line in the sand’ on where your organisation currently sits, culturally
  • Benchmark your current culture, and see a read out on inclusive behaviours, processes, habits and ways of working
  • Pinpoint nuances and trends in how different demographic groups experience and perceive your culture.

 

Do you have the right company values? (and how to create new ones)

Of course, a big part of what defines a culture is the underpinning cultural values. More than ever, employees care deeply about getting the ‘cultural fit’ when they consider moving companies. Websites like Glassdoor give them a window into this that didn’t exist before. And this means that what a company stands for, its ethics, how managers manage, and yes, its values are important than ever. So, how do you go about creating or refreshing your company values?

First and foremost, objectivity is crucial to creating something fit for purpose. So, you might want to seek some external help with this. This is a process we have been through ourselves, and here’s an overview of the process we followed, and what we found along the way:

  1. Define what you’re doing, and shout about it!

To achieve real buy-in, do your research and be clear with people what the expected impact will be of creating or refreshing your company values. We updated the rest of the business regularly via email or at face to face forums to let them know progress. With the initial demand to have a values framework having come from our people, it was important they felt part of the values creation process.

Top tip: Liaise with your internal marketing/comms team early on. This will help you to shape communications plans. Additionally, these conversations could spark ideas about how best to ‘launch’ the framework and create a buzz around it.

  1. Involve and consult your stakeholders throughout

When you’re creating a values framework from scratch, don’t fall into simply plucking ideas out of thin air or choosing your favourite values from other companies. Your own values already exist, you can’t ‘set’ them. Your job is to uncover them, make them tangible and relate them to behaviours – the things that we all see. That’s why speaking with your people is important, as they hold the answers. Use forums like stakeholder interviews, focus groups and employee validation panels to glean these insights.

Top tip: Encouraging wider participation is important, but be prepared for a degree of apathy from some. Don’t let this discourage you, and instead think of ways you can bring the values to life for others.

  1. Unearth and define your values

The methods mentioned above should give you a wealth of information – now what to do with it? Designing your values will likely be an iterative process, as it was for us. It takes time to pull out the core themes from your data collection and distil them down into something which resonates and feels right for your organisation.

Top tip: Give yourself the time and space to work through this iterative process. Trying to rush or ‘force’ your values framework design will likely give you something less meaningful – plan ahead, start early, and set aside time to keep coming back to your design work.

  1. Show off your values

Your values are not something you should keep quiet about! Your employees, your prospective employees and your clients (where relevant), should know how you operate and the commitment you’re making through your values. This kind of stuff is important to all of these groups now, as we’ve already mentioned. So don’t be shy in showing off and talking about what marks you as an organisation.

Top tip: Plan an internal launch event to reveal your new values. For bigger organisations, task managers/team leaders with doing this at a local level, so everyone has the opportunity to ask questions.

  1. Make it mean something

Remember that creating your values is only the beginning. You next need to focus on how you’ll embed your values framework and make it meaningful for every employee, every day.

Top tip: Make line managers accountable for embedding values. The responsibility isn’t solely theirs but they do have a key role to play. Suggest that they incorporate values into their own objectives and then support team members with this exercise too.

 

Tips for creating a winning organisational culture

So-called ‘destination employers’ such as Google and Apple know the power of culture better than most. It’s certainly one of the things that sets them apart from other employers. But what do they do differently?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy for employers and, even among tech giants like those mentioned above and others like Amazon and Facebook, there are significant differences in people strategy and HR practices. Having said this, there are also come common themes too. What I found interesting is the role played by existing employees. Top-performing companies recognise the value of a happy and engaged people. This, naturally, creates lots of employee advocates who, in turn, help to build a strong and positive employer brand.

Here are two other examples of how top businesses are counting on existing employees to communicate their culture and attract new talent:

 

PwC – get to know your future colleagues and the working culture

PwC uses its careers portal to highlight a host of employee stories. Rather than telling prospective recruits all about the company on an ‘about us’ page, PwC instead puts the focus squarely on its people by sharing a series of photos, biographies and Q&As. Enabling people to learn about the company and its culture through the words of employees is powerful. It provides a much more rounded view of what it’s really like to work at the company.

Starbucks – foster a culture of total transparency

Starbucks makes great use of social channels to promote its transparent culture. They encourage current employees, whom they refer to as “partners”, to join a conversation on Twitter or Instagram (#sbuxjobschat). Here they invite potential new recruits to interact and ask questions that existing partners will answer thus offering a very real insight into the culture and what it’s like to work for Starbucks.

This approach is both novel and very powerful. It implicitly conveys the openness of the working culture at Starbucks and shows that they genuinely trust and empower employees. This is fundamental to the strength of its employer brand.

Deborah Kuness

Deborah Kuness

An experienced consultant and executive coach, Debs is passionate about developing leaders and fostering cultural and organisational change. Connect with Deborah on LinkedIn