Unprecedented events (e.g., COVID-19, war, economic uncertainty) have forced many organisations around the globe – from government entities to multinational conglomerates – to redefine their meaning of “normalcy” in the workplace. These events facilitated shifts in societal norms and workforce priorities, placing a fresh perspective on how organisations function and what it means to conduct “business as usual.” Many workplaces now have a unique opportunity to revisit standard operating practices, forge new solutions and transform internal capabilities in ways they have not in the past. This operational “reset” – of organisations and employees alike – calls for a review of existing organisational culture. The proactive and comprehensive review of organisational culture ensures businesses are meeting the needs and expectations of today’s workforce and ultimately driving success.
Culture – an organisation’s DNA – plays a foundational role in an organisation’s day-to-day activities and its ability to achieve long-term business goals. It aligns leaders on the critical operations and processes needed to engage employees and unifies the workforce around expected behaviours, values and actions. When cultivated appropriately, culture provides organisations a competitive advantage in the marketplace of the future.
The intentional cultivation of organisational culture requires it to be:
- Aligned to an organisation’s business strategy
While there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” culture within an organisation, creating and maintaining the right culture requires a careful examination of existing workplace norms and behaviours to determine if they bolster the business strategy and support desired business outcomes.
- Led by example
Culture change relies heavily on organisational leaders’ ability to model desired behaviours and actions. Employees often look to their leaders for clarity in acceptable forms of workplace conduct. In addition, when cultural values are embraced and demonstrated daily, employee engagement is 8X higher and discretionary effort (feeling of giving one’s full effort) is 6X higher.
- Reinforced with actions
An organisation’s culture must stretch beyond philosophy and be shaped through experience. Underpinning workplace culture through business infrastructure and systems will aid in the cascade of cultural values. These embedded interventions throughout the talent lifecycle help inform and meet expectations of the workforce.
- Enabled by HR
Human resources is the backbone of every organisation’s functionality. The effectiveness of its policies and programs heavily impacts established organisational dynamics and can promote or deter the employee retention rate.
When done consistently, intentional cultivation of culture helps organisations institute and maintain processes, programs and behaviours aligned with broader business strategies. This intentional cultivation becomes even more critical in times of change. As many businesses now strive to regain their footing in a post-pandemic world, they must orient to a new strategic agenda (while ensuring they have the culture to sustain it). Whether it be the reconfiguration of a business to drive growth in the market or enhancement of a workforce’s ability to tolerate change, it is clear that organisations are in a period of repositioning.
Now, more than ever before, organisations have an opportunity to own the change ahead of them by building new organisational models and revisiting their existing organisational culture, ensuring that the future of work is embraced, as is the change that comes along with it. Proactive culture change pivots an organisation’s attention from the past to focus on the future, keeping what is working while identifying what needs to evolve to meet new demands of the marketplace and employees.
What should organisations think about before they embark on their intentional culture change journey?
- What is your current culture? Is it meeting the needs of the business? If not, why?
- What is your organisation’s business strategy, and what type of culture is needed to best deliver on that strategy? (i.e., how do you need to function? More customer-centric, more agile, more innovative, more risk-accepting, etc.)
- How would you define the characteristics of your desired culture and what gaps do you believe exist in your current state? What do you need to change in order to best achieve desired business outcomes?
If you or your leadership team is struggling to answer these questions, start with a well-designed, organisation-wide culture assessment to guide the conversation.
- Is your culture truly leader-led? What are the behaviours and values your leaders must embrace and model to drive the desired culture?
- What are employees’ expectations of this change? How has organisational change been embraced by the workforce in the past? Were they resistant to change? Did they welcome it?
- How would/could the existing organisational infrastructure support or deter the desired culture?
If you or your leadership team is struggling to answer these questions, focus on the development of a culture change strategy that is designed to outline roles and expectations for leaders, employees and organisational systems to support the desired culture.
Brenna Hearn is a Senior Consultant of the Global Culture & Engagement Practice at Kincentric. She drives the development and implementation of innovative, data-driven talent and people strategies designed to optimise organisational culture and accelerate business outcomes. Brenna is a culture transformation and employee engagement expert with five years of experience supporting large-scale, end-to-end organisational transformations for clients of various industries.