A few weeks ago, pre-lockdown 2, I met a friend for a coffee. She was describing to me her current undesirable work situation, and a clash of personalities amongst senior managers. There were some red flags: cooperation on projects and tasks was dwindling, an employee who needed to be involved in a piece of work was deliberately excluded. Two key players from the management team were often ‘too busy’ to join the weekly team call. A deadline was missed; dissatisfaction and hostility hung heavy in the remote-working air.
“But it’s all because these two just can’t get along!”
My friend, exasperated with this situation, started out with an abundance of enthusiasm for her role. It was an exciting company to work for. Pre-lockdown perks included free-beer Fridays and a gym membership. But I could see that this was dwindling. ‘If the world was in a different situation, I’d just move on. I love the company culture, but these two people are ruining it for everyone.”
This type of scenario can often be the point from which our clients start looking for solutions. We’ve all experienced working alongside people who don’t get on, but this is usually indicative of something going on at a deeper level. It’s a workplace culture issue.
Cutting through the noise
So, let’s take a step back. What is culture? At its centre is the business strategy, and your culture is the way you mobilise your people to execute that strategy. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach. For example, the culture of a rapid-growth tech business won’t be the same as that of a global construction business, but there might be some common themes.
Your culture consists of the guiding principles that hold up your business. An aspirational purpose or mission statement, or a cultural manifesto, might be one of those core principles, acting as an ‘access point’ for employees to align their role to the million-dollar ‘why we exist’ question. Employees can get behind this, and understand how their daily activities contribute to fulfilling that vision. Your culture underpins every element of your existence.
Management textbooks traditionally define culture as behaviours and mindsets, but that doesn’t give us the whole picture. It’s how inclusive and diverse your workforce is. It’s the way decisions are made, and by whom. It’s how psychologically safe people feel especially when teams are displaced. For example, this year teams have experienced so much fragmentation. Some staff are still at work, others are remote working, and many have been furloughed. Are employees comfortable enough to speak up and ask questions? How are mistakes viewed in the organisation – what happens when someone gets something wrong, and are there consequences? Culture also encompasses management styles. This can mean that individual teams within the same organisation have very distinct cultures.
Company values are a particularly interesting element of the cultural mix. Values are the underlying essence of your brand. Your culture translates those values into what they mean to your people, and brings them to life. We all work better with something tangible, so if you can translate those values into what they mean for someone’s day-to-day responsibilities, you’re winning.
We often speak with clients who have some wonderful, carefully-crafted values on their website, and therefore assume they got their culture sussed. However, something’s amiss. Productivity has plateaued, or investment in a new process isn’t paying off. Those value statements alone won’t get a company where it wants to be unless people understand them, are engaged in them, and own them.
Why bother auditing your culture?
Assessing your culture is a powerful, wonderful thing. It’ll give you a distilled snapshot in time of what your culture is right now. From this, you can see both sides of the coin: what works well and is facilitating progress, and what’s hindering progress. There are many reasons to assess your culture: missed targets, new tech implementation, perhaps a merger or acquisitions, restructuring or new industry regulations.
A culture assessment is particularly valuable if the business has undergone a major change. For example, a new CEO who wants to drive growth, or a new process such as digital transformation. External factors might be impacting your business, and there’s been plenty of those lately – Brexit, the pandemic, the recession, political landscape, or climate change (this one could have an enormous impact in the coming years).
The audit process highlights those areas that aren’t quite aligned to your strategy. For example, if you need to diversify your offerings to customers and innovate, you might not currently have the culture to get you there. It can highlight problems with engagement or motivation, and it can illuminate gaps in training and development. For example, your directors might need ethical leadership training to enable the business to be more environmentally sustainable, or middle managers might need upskilling in a certain process or discipline.
If you leave your workplace culture unexamined, at best you’re missing out on huge opportunities to thrive. At worst? You don’t know where your people are heading – possibly all in different directions. That can potentially be damaging. Think of your business culture as the foundations of your home. It supports every facet of what you do. Those foundations may be internal, but they can be viewed if you dig deep enough, and felt not just by employees but also by customers, partners and suppliers. Your culture is therefore your market perception – and the way people experience your brand.
But what if it’s all calm seas and plain sailing? Well, if your business is smashing it at every level (lucky you!) and all areas are running like clockwork – then assessing your culture will make you even better. In a nutshell, here’s why the Culture AssessmentTM is your best possible starting point. It will:
- Identify existing attributes which are helping performance, and those which are hindering.
- Assess how well your organisation is aligned for delivering a strategy or a transformation programme.
- Identify immediate untapped opportunities to enhance performance.
- Understand variations across the organisation so you can focus attention on the right areas, and work towards full cultural alignment.
- Demonstrate progress to stakeholders, including shareholders, regulators, the media.
- Identify mismatches with 3rd party providers that may be impacting your service and/or commercials.
- Provide a baseline measurement for future alignment or change. It acts as an ongoing reference tool for your organisation.
Culture by design
Your culture is a living, breathing thing. It’s not a static entity and you can reshape it to help you deliver your business goals. Undoubtedly, there will be some great elements to any business culture that you’ll want to retain – so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! Focusing on change for the sake of it isn’t what a culture audit is about.
When working with clients, we use insights to design and embed a culture that will enable the business to achieve its goals – we call this our 3-stage methodology. We do this using data from a range of sources, some new, some existing. For example, HR data and performance results, surveys, interviews, and focus groups – and we’re always prepared to dig deeper if things aren’t adding up.
The godfather of modern management theory, Peter Drucker, proclaimed that ‘culture will eat strategy for breakfast’. I love this as a mantra for culture assessment: if you don’t examine it, dismantle it, and seek to understand why your culture, then your strategy might never get off the ground. Businesses run the risk of missing out on opportunities for enhanced performance, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, plus greater productivity and profitability.
Get in touch to learn more about the Culture Assessment.
Is your organisation restructuring? Are you considering redundancies within your workforce? Are you closing down operations in certain locations? Do you want to improve customer service or employee experience? Are you embarking on a business initiative, programme or new strategy? Our Culture Consultancy Culture Assessment™ will help with all of these. It’s a structured methodology based around 20 attributes that delivers proven results. Together we can dig a bit deeper and get you on the road to success. Get in touch to learn more.