No doubt you’ve often heard, or spoken yourself, about a company’s culture. A popular question from candidates during a job interview is to ask what the organisational culture is like. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2022 report, 40% of jobseekers view colleagues and culture as a top priority when choosing a new job. But what does the ‘culture’ at an organization actually mean?
Over 50 years ago global management consulting firm McKinsey coined the term as, ‘culture is the way that we do things around here’.
Essentially, an organization’s culture is made up of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices. It can refer to the working environment, company policies, and even employee behavior.
Company culture is very nuanced, as sometimes the culture can vary even between departments and even teams. A ‘culture’ will occur naturally, whether intentional or not.
The established way of setting a company culture is that it’s done by leaders in the organization. The new way of establishing culture is the idea that everyone should have a shared responsibility in the culture of the organization. In a Harvard Business Review article, Denis Lee Yohn argues that company culture is everyone’s responsibility.
“The new approach shows that organizational culture has become less a code established by leaders and more of a toolkit for all to draw from and input to.”
Why is the culture so important?
An organization’s culture has a direct link to performance. While it is the people that make up the culture of an organization, ‘culture’ is often determined by senior leaders – they often set the tone of an organization. A toxic workplace culture leads to poor performance, low morale, stress, and often burnout.
A good workplace culture is one where employees thrive, are efficient and productive, have good peer relationships, and who stay longer at the organization. Ultimately it’s a positive work environment where employees have job satisfaction.
What are the signs that your culture needs to change?
The obvious signs are low morale, poor performance, and a high turnover of staff. The less obvious signs are how your organization fosters communication, resistance to change, focusing on the past instead of moving forward, and low employee engagement.
Tips to change your internal culture
Understand your current culture
Before embarking on culture change, it’s important to understand the current culture within your team and / or organization. Ways in which you can do this is through staff surveys, polls and through interviews. Here’s some guidance on how to conduct a cultural audit, including questions to ask staff.
Establish what is worth keeping, what needs developing and what needs to go.
Define your core values
How can employees embody your values if you’ve not communicated what they are? As well as understanding the organization’s values and ethos, it’s also about communicating and demonstrating the behavior and actions that accompany those values.
Ensure that your values have behavioural descriptors, which help staff to understand what behaviours are expected of them. For example, one of the values of the British Red Cross is ‘compassionate’. Some of the behaviours that underpin this value are to listen and communicate thoughtfully, enable others to thrive and to champion wellbeing.
An organization is its people, therefore culture is intrinsically linked to employees. The size of your organization will determine to which extent you can involve everyone in culture change.
If you’re a very small organization, you may be able to involve all staff and stakeholders. If you’re a very large organization, consider putting a working group together with representatives from every part of the business.
Be mindful of diversity and inclusion within your working group.
A leadership style that encourages collaboration, teamwork, and honesty is vital to fostering a positive workplace culture. Staff should feel able to communicate openly and honestly about issues that affect them, whether that’s talking to their manager directly or through other internal channels.
Embed company culture in interviews
Company culture isn’t just about thinking of existing employees but about future employees too. Are your values included in your job ads? Are they clear when someone researches your organization through looking at your website, social media channels etc. Do your values shine through? Think about how you can include culture-based questions within your recruitment interviews.
It’s important to state here that this doesn’t mean recruiting people who are all the same. It’s about recruiting people who believe in your values.
‘Culture change’ is never done
Because people and culture are intertwined, culture change is never done. It’s not a box to tick and it doesn’t just happen overnight. The culture within your organization is fluid and will constantly evolve so it’s important to remember that.