Comment: What is the real secret to a great culture?

It’s the billion dollar question that so many organisations strive to answer, but in an employment landscape crowded with evolving staff perks, well being strategies and quirky workplace interiors, what is the true secret to a great organisational culture? Our CEO Oliver Shaw offers his thoughts on the subject…

“There’s nothing new in saying that the world of work is changing. In fact it’s probably something HR professionals and business leaders are tired of hearing. But when it comes to organisational culture, the comparative level of evolution isn’t as rapid.

“This may sound like an odd statement to make given culture is such a hot topic in the world of HR. It is widely acknowledged as a crucial ingredient within modern workplace recruitment, engagement and retention strategies. It helps attract the right candidates to a brand in the first place and can prove critical to driving bottom line objectives that keep both the business and its colleagues happy. And, because of the vital role it plays in the success of an organisation, it is something many HR leaders are trying desperately to re-shape.

“But before cultural change can be undertaken it is important to recognise something that is so often overlooked.

“A culture naturally manifests itself in any situation where humans work together, and certain cultural elements or norms become established and cemented incredibly quickly. It emerges as a result of the way people behave. It cannot be prescribed or dictated, and it won’t materialise simply because somebody wrote a vision or mission statement down in a company handbook.

“So, when thinking about the secret to a great culture, in my opinion the answer lies in two very simple things – consistency and transparency.

“It’s about businesses and HR leaders walking the walk. You can’t say it and not be it.

“For me, it’s therefore less important to worry about gimmicks, however popular they may seem. ‘Symbols’ of culture can be anything from management style to the flexibility of working hours, but more recently we’ve seen organisations trying to do more to showcase the culture they want to portray. The headlines have reported on the role of quirky workplace interiors, with wall colours chosen according to which hues are statistically proven to stimulate colleagues’ senses, for instance. Breakout zones with gaming hubs, in-house chefs and even massage services are being introduced to help employees relax. And staff rewards are becoming increasingly inventive, from unusual days and nights out to experiential perk packages that colleagues can enjoy in their personal time.

“If there is a tangible reason for these elements to be introduced within an organisation, then by all means, open the paint tins! But if these initiatives are simply skimming over more fundamental cultural incongruences, they are unlikely to deliver any real long-term impact.

“It’s surely more important for leaders to answer some key questions:

  • Do you know what your culture truly is?
  • Is it positive?
  • Is it consistent?
  • Are you influencing it or is it influencing you?

“I think it all boils down to strong leadership, and in this case behaviour overrides talk.

“It cannot be expected that colleagues will turn up early and go the extra mile, if managers constantly arrive late, for example. And there’s no point designing a poster which talks about how flexible the workplace is, if requests for that flexibility are continually declined.

“At the same time, if a business is said to empower employees, the automatic focus should not be to penalise someone if they make a mistake but own up to it and take steps to rectify the error. Similarly, if the mistake is a result of inadequate guidance or training, they shouldn’t be considered at fault. Instead, it is perhaps more important to home in on where improvements really need to be made – from the top.

“The examples could go on and on, because is there a quick fix to a winning culture? Perhaps not. But does the crux of the secret lie in consistency and transparency? Perhaps so.”

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