Each of us will spend roughly a third of our lives at work. So, where we choose, and the culture of that organisation, is a hugely important, personal decision. But a good culture isn’t just important on an individual level - it’s absolutely critical to the success of any business.
Before we explain why, it’s worth clarifying exactly what we mean by culture, because it’s not simply about social aspects like the ‘Thursday Quiz Night’, the ‘Mega Christmas party’, the ‘nice and friendly people’ or the fact that on Fridays ‘we dress casually’. Internal culture is a defined set of values (guiding principles) and behaviours (the translation of these principles into everyday actions) that guide and inspire colleagues across an organisation. Together, these values and behaviours give people an understanding not only of the kinds of people that will fit in, but also what it feels like to work for an organisation and what’s expected of them on a day-to-day basis.
For some lucky organisations, their internal culture is instinctive rather than explicitly defined, but for most it needs to be articulated and hard-wired across all aspects of the colleague experience to make sure people are aware of it - and understand what it means for them.
Building the asset
Why is it so important? An organisation can create a captivating new brand or can define an ambitious new business strategy, but without the culture to guide and inspire the actions people need to take to deliver it, it can very easily fall flat. When businesses do get their culture right it helps them attract, retain and motivate the best talent; ensures everyone’s actions support and help deliver their business strategy; and encourages a good colleague and customer experience. In fact, companies with strong cultures can see as much as a 4 x increase in revenue growth (1). However, a huge 87% of organisations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges (2), so it’s definitely worth thinking about, investing in and getting right.
Whether you are defining your organisation’s internal culture for the first time or looking to create a cultural change or shift within your organisation, here are five tips for making sure your culture becomes your biggest asset.
1 Engage people right from the start
The first thing to do is to consider how you can engage and listen to people across all parts of the organisation – across different roles, geographies, genders, ethnicities, tenures and levels of seniority. This ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top-down’ approach will not only make it easier to get buy in as you develop, define, and shift the culture, but it will also give insight into how people describe the culture today, and what they like and would be lost without, and it also helps identify any current challenges and future opportunities.
2 Align with organisational ambitions
The most successful internal cultures are developed with the organisational strategy in mind. Because by identifying the business ambitions for the future, you can define and create a culture that inspires the actions necessary to deliver it. For example, if building new partnerships is what’s necessary for a charity to have greater impact, then it’s important to encourage people through the values and behaviours to actively seek these out. If you develop the culture without considering this wider context, you miss the opportunity to maximise the benefits it can bring.
3 Build behaviours out of values
People are busy. The easier you make it for them to ‘live and breathe’ the culture, the more likely it is that they will. One of the best ways to do this it to connect the values (the principles that guide culture) with the behaviours (the translation of these principles into everyday actions). This helps make the values and behaviours more memorable and meaningful for people and gives them fewer things to have to remember and be aware of.
4 Create visible signatures
Make sure there are some visible and tangible examples of the culture in action so people can see and understand what’s expected of them and the difference it will make. We call these signatures, and they could be anything from branded wall graphics in office environments to internal initiatives and communications which showcase good examples of people living the values and behaviours. Ideally, they should address a specific challenge or opportunity for the culture: for example, if people across an organisation aren’t talking and collaborating, soft communal spaces could be introduced in offices. Or if there’s a need to address a gender imbalance at a senior level, a women’s leadership programme could be created. The more bespoke and relevant to the organisation, the more effective these signatures will be.
5 Don’t just launch it, embed it
The way the new culture is introduced is also crucial – and what works for one business might not be the best solution for another. The main thing is to make sure it’s more than a launch campaign - the new culture needs to become embedded within the organisation and weaved into all activities and communications for the long term. There are some steps to help achieve this: firstly, people need to feel enabled – having an understanding of the values and behaviours and feeling they are easy and convenient to put into practice. Secondly, people need to feel engaged – being inspired to live the values and behaviours and feeling they are relevant and appealing. And finally, people need to be encouraged – being recognised and rewarded for championing the culture and being ambassadors of it.
The result will be a strong, joined-up culture. Where individuals feel motivated, empowered and committed, and know what they need to do to progress and succeed. And where businesses maximise the potential of their employees and deliver against their strategic ambitions.
Last year, we worked closely with Dogs Trust, the leaders in all things dog, to define and activate the culture they needed to deliver their new, ambitious strategy across their growing organisation. Follow this link to the case study to find out more.
(1) Forbes (2021)
(2) Deloitte (2017)