by Nick Gubb on 31 July 2023
Part three of a three-part series on culture, looking into what impacts it, why it is valuable, and how we can look to change or scale it. In the final instalment, Nick Gubb looks into ways we can influence, scale and nurture culture.
Everyone wants to work somewhere they feel valued, listened to and not taken for granted. Somewhere that actively works in the best interests of their employees through coaching, training and career development.
Employees, in turn, give their best efforts to deliver outstanding results. In short, take care of your people; they will take care of your organisation.
How hard could it be to lift the culture within an organisation? It turns out it's tricky, and very few have mastered it.
You've likely heard the quote, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" (usually attributed to Peter Drucker or Ford Motor Company President Mark Fields, although possibly incorrectly). It doesn't mean that strategy isn't essential. Still, without having a solid culture and aligned values embedded as a foundation to further build upon, a business won't be able to shape and realise its strategy until its people are motivated to reach the same vision.
How can we motivate these people? It all comes down to the leaders.
Culture follows leadership.
The leader is responsible for ensuring the right people are in the right place, at the right time and doing the right thing. This attitude alone can have a significant impact on culture.
As work gets delivered, people see progress, they feel valued and supported, and communication improves as employees become more receptive and engaged. The culture starts to shift. It's common for a small team to have a high-performance culture within an organisation due to a fantastic leader.
Hopefully, we've all had at least one great leader that we've worked with in our careers, someone who understands the goal and supports and empathises with their team to get there while challenging them to stretch towards great outcomes.
Think of that person and what it was like to work with them. Turning up to work might have been fun, it was great to see the value your team was providing, you left at the end of the week with a real sense of accomplishment, and you wanted to help other members of the team to learn and grow so they can feel the same.
"The culture of an organisational system – whether a team, a department, or the whole organisation – is a reflection of the leader who holds the power for that group. As such, culture change is 100% a local phenomena – it can happen anywhere, anytime with anyone who has any authority." – Michael K. Sahota
We want to see the culture in those teams on a much larger scale within the organisation, but scaling it up from one team/department to the entire organisation is problematic. Because the leader primarily drives the culture in that team, you now want to replicate that leader's performance, personality and traits across the rest of the company.
Unless your leader is Dolly the sheep, you will need a better way to instil those behaviours.
Now that we've identified positive aspects of culture in pockets across the organisation, we want to replicate that into the broader structure.
Great! It's time for a transformation! According to McKinsey, around 70% of corporate transformations fail: "People throughout the organisation don't buy in, and they don't want to invest extra energy to make change happen."
We need the other leaders to buy into what we are trying to achieve and empower them to make decisions when considering their teams. Now that those teams have that trust and can see the top of the Org Chart living those value-driven behaviours, it will filter down into subsequent teams and organisational levels.
At this point, we know what we want our culture to look like, and it's not as easy as sending out a company-wide email advising everyone that we have a new company vision. We need to establish a baseline to understand where we are starting from and to know when we get closer to our road-mapped destination.
We can measure our baseline through surveys, focus groups, exit interviews and any other session where we ask people how they feel about the shared organisational values, vision, and experience around "what it's really like to work here". These activities require both participants' honesty and a shared understanding of a safe space to provide genuine feedback. No one should fear being singled out for telling the truth if you want them to be honest with you.
From there, it all becomes about the 'how':
- Communication: Notifying employees and stakeholders with an emphasis on why the changes are necessary and how they will add value to the organisation. Communication needs to be clear, concise, and tailored to its audience.
- Leading by example: Leaders need to model the desired behaviours and values. Without them 'walking the talk', others will not adopt the new values or feel comfortable trying it with their teams.
- Provide coaching and support: Not everyone is born with an innate set of soft skills. People need the opportunity to upskill themselves and put those skills into action before they become embedded. Coaching and support are ways to focus on growing an individual skill with a group of people. Mentoring and ongoing support networks become very important.
- Recognise and reward: It is essential to celebrate the wins and recognise the people (and their behaviours) that led to those gains. It doesn't have to be monetary (although promoting the right people into influential positions is also a win). Still, people seeing the benefit that the changes are delivering becomes a powerful message to have a go themselves.
- Evaluate and adjust: Goalposts move, and priorities change. It's vital to re-evaluate to ensure you are still on the right path and the destination is still where you want to go. Making minor corrections more frequently is much easier than starting the whole process again.
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy or quick answer to solve organisational cultural deficiencies. It will take considerable time and effort to nurture the behaviours you want to see before they propagate across departments and business units.
Other posts in this series: