Best ideas for improving company culture
With the upheaval caused by the pandemic and the move to hybrid working, your company culture might need some TLC. We talk to the experts and discover how to give culture a boost.
Now the Covid clouds are clearing, companies are looking at a very different landscape. It's one where the office, “ the traditional centre for creating culture,” as McKinsey puts it, is no longer the primary social space. And that means significant changes for workplace culture.
"Stories don't get told," explains HR expert Claire Lish. "You no longer have the chance to share the narrative of your organisation through informal chats at the kettle or in the canteen. This means that you need to find new ways of getting those messages out."
Culture-wise, it’s a challenge. But the post-COVID environment is also a great opportunity to create something new. Something that makes the employee experience even better.
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“Now is the perfect time for organizations to take a step back and assess whether their culture is fit for purpose in the changed future,” says Sarah Jordan, MD at engagement and leadership organisation Engage.
“What worked before may no longer be relevant or applicable as the world of work develops from the pandemic. Businesses should take time to identify the organisational values and behaviours that will create their ideal culture for this new future, and then work to embed these through leader and manager development programs and culture change initiatives.”
This process of rebuilding is already underway: “A lot of the corporate clients we see are doing culture work,” says corporate wellness coach James Davis. “They’re saying ‘people have to be our number one priority going forward, so we can have that strong culture and get the best from them’.”
How do you find out if your culture needs improving?
So first off, how do you know if there’s work to be done? According to Sarah, ultimately, the sign will be that your business isn’t performing.
"At a more granular level, there are clear indicators of cultural failure but these vary from one organisation to another," says Sarah. "For some it may be a lack of innovation or client-centricity, it may be a lack of collaboration or accountability, or it could be a lack of productivity or talent growth and retention," she says.
For Claire, doing a culture check is a matter of taking a detailed look - from multiple angles - at exactly what's happening in your organisation. These are some of her suggestions.
- Look at your grievance, disciplinary and productivity measures. What are they telling you about how people feel and how strategically aligned they are?
- Make use of an employee engagement survey. Try and use it at least monthly. Annual surveys tell you nothing, and by the time you galvanise a team to respond, the moment has passed, or the people have left
- Speak to the people working on the frontline. You'll never know what your culture is if you only speak to the Executive team. Business leaders influence company culture at the top, but you should measure it from the bottom
- Make people available for “drop-in clinics.” Give people the space and opportunities to tell you how they feel
- Open up a retribution-free mechanism. Help employees report any blips in the commitment to a healthy culture and celebrate when that reporting results in positive change
- Check your Glassdoor scores. Take the worst opinion of your business most seriously
What are the most common company culture problems?
Weak organisational cultures have taken more of a hit from the pandemic than those that are thriving.1 But what are the areas where organisational cultures are most likely to struggle?
Things to look out for include:
Organisational values don’t have to run on for pages. But without messages that articulate your sense of purpose, employees can flounder. A solid set of clearly defined company values can do a lot to bring people together. But they shouldn’t come from the top down.
“Ask your people to tell you what their stories are of the organisation,” Claire suggests. “What are the behaviours they see and admire in your organisation? Use narrative and storytelling to describe what your organisation stands for using real-life examples from real-life team members.”
All talk and no action
Your organisation might already have values and mission statements, but if leaders and managers don’t abide by them, they’re meaningless. Leaders have to lead by example, not say one thing and do another.
“Culture is driven through an organisation by the extent to which leaders, managers and peers role-model certain behaviours,” says Sarah. “Improving culture therefore means identifying the right culture and embedding it – from the top to the bottom – empowering your organisation to manage all aspects of the employee experience holistically, and putting culture at the centre of your engagement strategy.”
Talent and turnover
There’s nothing that proves people are dissatisfied more than when they leave your organisation. Of course, people move on for all sorts of reasons, but if it keeps happening it’s a sure sign you might have a problem.
And if you’re having difficulties attracting top talent it might be because people have developed a negative perception of your culture. Seventy-seven percent of people who responded to a Glassdoor survey said they’d consider a company’s culture before applying for a job, and 89% said they think it’s important for employers to have a clear mission and purpose.
It's one of the cornerstones of culture, especially in an era of remote working where managers aren't always in the same physical space as their teams. Lack of trust can lead to micromanagement, which can lead to loss of confidence and reluctance to innovate.
Internal business communication is an art and not one that comes naturally to all leaders. In a pandemic and post-pandemic world, companies will have to work much harder to communicate effectively with scattered teams. “Any organisation worth their salt will have doubled down on this during the pandemic,” says Claire. “They’ll be asking themselves, ‘how do we remain connected with our people in a world that has become socially distant?’”
“This is something that requires relentless commitment. And it means you need to have invested in an excellent Communications team to find new ways of connecting with your people.“ And it's essential to take a holistic view, too. Aspects of culture are interconnected, so problems in one area can have a knock-on effect.
"The culture of an organisation shapes the employee experience and determines what it really is that employees feel part of," says Sarah. "If one part is broken, then it means the entire culture is affected."
Five expert ideas for improving company culture
- Encourage wellness
Wellness has been a buzzword for a while now. But since the pandemic, business leaders recognise that it's a critical part of any thriving culture.
“There’ve been a number of surveys showing that employee health and wellness is now one of the top things people look for in an employer,” says James. “Things like commute distance and whether they get a nice car are less important than whether an employer is going to show people some compassion for their situation.”
So how can companies boost wellness? “Companies increasingly want to inspire their employees to have personal goals, to deal with things like anxiety, to be more motivated,” says James. And technology can offer significant opportunities in this area by enabling people to access wellness resources in their own time. “I think we’ll see wellness as more employee-driven with a smorgasbord of resources and tools,” James predicts.
- Improve flexibility
The threat of the pandemic receding doesn’t mean going back to an “old normal” of 9-5 working hours, dress codes and rigid routines.
“Don’t be draconian about the new world of work,” Claire advises. “Ask your people what they will feel comfortable with, listen and work with them to find the flexible means of being productive, safe and maintaining a healthy culture.
"Nothing says crap culture like a leader telling workers to head back to the office full time or they’ll probably lose your job. Especially if that person has been doing a brilliant job for the last twelve months on a laptop balanced on an ironing board.”
- Focus on diversity, equality and inclusion
Focus on diversity, equality and inclusion
It's well established that diverse, inclusive organisations can reap benefits by attracting talent and improving wellness. But only 35% of respondees to the OC Tanner Global Culture survey said their organisation was doing enough to address discrimination internally. Now's the time to make sure your company puts diversity and inclusion centre stage.
“Stop talking about diversity and inclusion and start doing it,” says Claire. “Demonstrate to your people that you have not just diversity of demographic in your leadership positions, but also diversity of thought to ensure the continued success of your organisation.
"If you don’t have it yet, then document how you will achieve it, and communicate it to everyone so you can be held accountable for it.”
- Build leadership in the organisation
Build leadership in the organisation
It's not just senior leaders who are vital in shaping company culture - mid-level managers also have a role to play in reinforcing it. Claire recommends focusing on the middle of your hierarchy by coaching middle managers and connecting frontline managers so they can handle employee issues effectively and support their teams through periods of change.
Training needs to go beyond simply showing people how to do their job. “Train them in how to reach their full potential (behaviours, resilience, growth, ambition, goal setting, dealing with difficult people and so on) – even if that means they become over-skilled for their role or your business,” she advises.
- Recognise achievement
Recognising people’s achievements and efforts is essential for helping build a positive culture. But many companies aren’t that good at it.
Only 29% of people who responded to OC Tanner's survey said their organisation recognises large and small efforts. And just over half (53%) believed recognition is an everyday part of the culture in their organisation.
If you don’t already have one, now could be the right time to put a workplace recognition programme in place. People at all levels have worked hard to help keep their organisations afloat during the pandemic - showing appreciation for their efforts will help make your company an even better place to work.
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