Organisational culture – and how to strike the right chemistry for employees

The world is more connected today than ever before, suggesting that it should prove increasingly easy for multi-national businesses to unite a global workforce. We know this is not the case. As governments watch powerlessly on as the people of the UK vote whether or not to identify with the wider European community, we explore the questions big businesses must ask to avoid politician’s mistakes – namely where does culture come from, how do you measure it and most importantly how do you shape it?

Where does culture come from?

When a company is founded more often than not the new culture is born from the fusion of the culture of broader society and the culture of the leadership team. Over time, as organisations grow, become international, merge with other businesses and workforces become less homogenous, this must evolve and be defined in a more meaningful way. The first challenge for a business today is to diagnose the problem and reveal the levers for building a cohesive, unified corporate identity.

How do you measure culture?

In order to get robust insights you should speak to a representative cross-section of employees; across all levels, geographies, departments /vocations, tenures, ages, languages and genders. The best way to do this is with a quantitative survey across the entire employee base.

The first dimension to measure is how the culture is perceived by the specific employee; both in relative terms (deemed better, the same or worse than similar businesses) and in absolute terms (agreement with possible descriptors). This will paint a picture of the strengths and weaknesses, and the amount of variation between responses will also reflect the degree of diversity and fragmentation.

The second dimension is what your employees know about your brand values and mission statement. We can measure this in two ways – the first is claimed /self-assessed knowledge, where the employees rates their confidence explaining the values; the second is proven knowledge, where the employee is tested to correctly recall the actual values.

The final dimension is how emotionally committed the employees are to your brand values and mission statement; the extent to which they personally believe in them. This is another way for us to identify the groups who are being engaged and included, versus those who potentially excluded, and scale the problem.

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How do you shape culture?

By measuring knowledge and commitment discretely you will have a good idea whether your focus needs to be education or engagement, and top-down or bottom-up. But to really move from insight to action, informing actual strategies, initiatives and behaviours, you must measure inputs and outputs of engagement in the employee survey. Analytical models can then help us to identify how to drive cultural alignment, and quantify the tangible returns of your efforts.

From our experience one shared, inclusive purpose is essential for cultural unity in successful international organisations. When all employees pull in the same direction and recognise how their work contributes to this purpose your organisation is more likely to have a strong, sustainable and scalable culture.

Communication is also an important driver of cultural alignment. Both in terms of what you say – having the right brand values, building a compelling story – but also how you say it – being clear and single-minded. Furthermore, transparent, open, two-way communication is most likely to increase inclusion among the more polarised groups within the organisation.

Consequently, one of the most important signals to transform internal culture is also management behaviours – do the leadership team and CEO live the brand values and act in a way that inspires unity? Commitment to cultural transformation should come from the top-down, and a fact-based research approach often provides the most impactful mechanism for building consensus among your organisation’s leadership.

It’s fair to say Brussels and London would both do well to learn from these findings.

Ben Osborne is the EMEA head of insights for Siegel+Gale

Maintaining a founding company culture within startups isn’t easy, especially when they begin to grow. So how can entrepreneurs ensure that their staff retain that entrepreneurial drive and innovative thinking that first set the company on the road to success?

Image: Shutterstock

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