The biggest challenge to culture buy-in is leaders that promote values they do not themselves practise.
How we act as leaders sets the tone for the culture of the organisation. According to Gallup over the last few years, in the average organisation polled, less that one third of employees strongly agree that they can believe in their organisation’s values. This is scary news when we take a look at the impact of culture on attracting and retaining talent, brand and profitability.
Company culture isn’t created or supported by beautiful illustrated posters with motivational phrases on our walls, it’s what we stand for as an organisation. It represents what we and every member of our organisation believes, and what we want our customers to believe.
Culture depends on daily behaviour, particularly what we do when we think we are not being observed.
Part of the challenge we face in embedding behaviour into an organisation’s culture is that a “culture” isn’t always easy to define in real terms. The essence of the culture often gets lost in jargon and corporate talk. Just because you can write down a definition of your culture and expected behaviours doesn’t mean that it can be translated into real world day-to-day actions. What does it mean, what do we do?
The translation gap between desired culture and the real culture
We could say that an organisation’s culture is how employees interact on a day-to-day basis, and how work gets done. Culture is dynamic, not fixed or static. The way work gets done varies across the organisation, and these differences impact performance. Unfortunately, there are translation gaps between the desired culture and the culture that employees experience. The gap between what the leaders envision and the way these ideas are translated into real world day-to-day behaviour.
The most effective drivers of culture and adoption of values are definitions and behaviours that are visible, simple and actionable.
These gaps between expectation and behaviour create confusion and inconsistency for employees and customers. The organisations with the most successful cultures identify these gaps in translation and apply strategies that reduce them. These interventions are aimed at incrementally moving the organisation closer to its aspirational culture. Leaders often select behaviours that sound good to define their ideal culture, but when these values fail to resonate with employees (and therefore influence the way work gets done) they become counterproductive. When ideals are not lived on a daily basis throughout the organisation they can quickly become de-motivational factors.
Culture can be a formidable signal of performance, or it can be a substantial hurdle to achieving performance goals and meeting customers’ needs.
Linking culture and values to the identity of the organisation
Culture programmes should not be separate, but an integrated approach to creating and sustaining the way we work. When we see culture as a dynamic way to bring our organisation’s purpose into our day-to-day work we can begin to build a strategic foundation for high performance.
Though leaders might have a powerful vision for their company’s culture, if they fail to measure and align culture with values, purpose and brand, the result will be a fragmented message to customers and employees alike, and end in poor performance.
Organisations with high performance cultures make strengthening their culture a consistent priority. Using knowledge management, business storytelling and comprehensive data, they take culture from words to deeds and then delivery. They strive to build an interactive communication strategy that keeps the culture conversation dynamic. These conversations encourage and recognise employees whose contributions support the desired culture; gives them a voice to participate in building the culture; and aligns performance management with their cultural aspirations.
Aligning day-to-day values with cultural aspirations requires them to be:
- Relatable and clearly defined. Communication needs to be congruent, relatable to the day-to-day business and managed as an extension of the brand.
- Benchmarked. Once we have defined the desired culture we need to know if we are is succeeding in bringing it to life. Benchmarks and qualitative measures enable us to track progress over time, and link our culture to relevant business outcomes.
- Consciously managed. We need to actively manage and review all communication, activities and processes to ensure they are in line with the desired culture. An essential part of this is rewarding the right behaviours in line with these desired cultural outcomes.
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