Never has culture been more important to an organisation than it is now. A clear and purposeful mission motivates team members and improves overall performance. It is an executive’s responsibility to ensure that this culture is known and communicated across all levels of his or her organisation.
It’s hard to define culture. An academic will give you an answer that will differ from a politician. An Australian’s answer won’t be the same as an American’s. We all have different conceptualisations, each with its own nuances and subtleties.
Culture, in a corporate sense, is even more mysterious. It is an indeterminate, intangible idea that manifests itself in our relationships with others and our broader collective.
As difficult as it can be to articulate what organisational culture is, it is easy to pinpoint its benefits. Research published in 2015 based on the Denison Organisational Culture Survey found that the implementation of a successful organisational culture can lead to a 26% decrease in employee turnover and 15% increase in productivity. What should be clear to executives is that organisational culture can be the difference between mediocre and improved employee engagement and performance.
Naturally, people work harder when they feel connected to their organisation. This connection can be between colleagues, to the work itself, or to the organisation as a whole. Organisational culture encompasses these different nodes; it is about establishing a particular environment to ensure that employees are working for a higher purpose. There is nothing less motivating than going to work for the sole reason of fulfilling one’s contractual obligations. By cultivating a strong and inclusive culture, executives can inspire their employees to reach beyond their base level of effort.
As important as this is, it is by no means revolutionary knowledge. Most executives are able to conjure up brilliant statements of organisational culture that have all the elements of success. Nonetheless, research suggests that organisations are still coming up short in terms of their implementation of these ideas. In fact, a report published by Gartner suggests that 69% of HR managers believe that their organisation does not possess the culture it needs for the future.
In light of this, Gartner has recommended that executives have three conversations with their employees to help them breathe life into their theoretical conceptualisations of culture.
- Culture as Tension
A good organisational culture does not revolve around attributes that must be displayed at all times. It recognises that employees must balance competing interests; a strong culture will communicate these interests and educate employees as to when to give more emphasis to one interest over another. From this, priorities will become clear.
- Feedback Culture
Organisational culture is not what you conceive it to be in your planning sessions. It is whatever your employees say your culture is. Sometimes your intention can be lost in translation, so it is vital that you open avenues of dialogue with your team members to ensure you know how your message is coming across. From this, revisions can be made.
- Accountability Culture
As an executive, you are the start and finish of any attempt at implementing organisational culture. Because it is as important as any other business objective, you must hold yourself accountable – and anyone else you make responsible – as you would for any other project. By demonstrating this commitment to the cause, you are more likely to see short and middle-term results.
Life in the c-suite can give executives a false sense of security. So many of us make these grand plans regarding organisational culture and just presume they will be implemented successfully. Most leaders fall short when it comes to ensuring that what appears on the drawing board manifests in the corridors of our offices.
Culture is complicated. It takes sustained effort and attention to drag an idea from theory to practice. It is an executive’s responsibility to see this project through until its successful end.
The Complete Leader Program is unique in its use of advanced analytics and big data to personalise participants’ experiences. If you are seeking to inspire engagement within your team, please contact Melinda Fell.