Why you can’t force business culture

You can’t touch or feel an organisation’s business culture, but its impact can be extremely visible at times and not always for the right reasons. A business’ culture shapes how staff conduct themselves, which organisations you do business with and which you don’t and how long those relationships last.

Through my role at EasySharePoint I’ve found it fascinating just how different one organisation’s culture can be from another in the same sector and how this way of doing business can change from market to market or even office to office. However, what’s most interesting is the impact that this has on productivity, staff engagement and the bottom line. Both good and bad.

Over time, as new people enter the mix and the business grows or goes in a different direction, this culture changes and so too does the impact that it has on the wider company. In some organisations a cultural shift can result in staff feeling reinvigorated and more motivated than usual to hit targets, however this can also provide a source of anxiety and tension for some workers on occasion.

Although it would be nice to transform an organisation’s culture overnight, this simply isn’t possible. Instead, business leaders must look to steer it in the direction desired. However this can be easier said than done; the big challenge that business leaders face is how to build support for this shift throughout the entire business, from the mail room to the boardroom.

In my experience, attempts by business leaders to impose a new culture on staff from the top down almost always end in failure. You simply cannot force a business culture by defining what values you want your organisation to have and informing staff that they must follow this new approach. Far from heralding in a new era, this approach more often than not leaves employees feeling disenfranchised and in some cases sceptical of the organisation’s intentions.

I’ve found that organisations yield far greater results if the management team engage with staff about the meaning of and reason for a change in direction, perhaps even working with staff to canvass their opinion on how they’d like to see the business change for the better. A good route for doing this is through organising Q&A sessions with the management or inviting honest discussion and feedback on internal blogs, forums and social networks.

Opening the floor for open discussion about the purpose and direction of the business demonstrates to staff that you value their opinion and is the one of the most important steps towards creating a system of values that everyone in your organisation can relate to.

But don’t stop there. An organisation’s culture like an organisation itself is an ever evolving creature. As the business’ objectives and the people working towards them change, it’s essential to ensure that two-way communication with staff continues to be actively encouraged. Ultimately, your workforce is the lifeblood of your organisation and it is the workers that make and shape the business culture, thinking that you can force a culture on them without their support simply does not make sense.

Suzy Dean is CEO of EasySharePoint, a TechCity start-up that helps teams create, share and communicate better together.

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