If your current culture isn't fit for purpose, this is something that should be right at the top of your 'to do' list. Consider, what organisational culture change do you need to make to enable you to achieve your strategic goals?

These are two fundamental questions for every organisation to answer, now perhaps more than ever. Workplaces have changed forever, and hybrid working is here to stay. It’s imperative therefore you are fostering and promoting the right culture.

We’ve taken a closer look at organisational culture, to explore what it is, why it’s so important, the most common culture change issues and how to measure/change your culture.

What is culture?

A definition we like about organisational culture (by Cameron & Quinn, 2011) is that it is:

“The social glue holding an organisation together.”

According to Cameron and Quinn (2011), an organisation’s culture is typically comprised of:

  • Implicit assumptions – people are, by definition, unaware of these. These are the elements of culture people take for granted
  • The rules and procedures of an organisation that give guidance on how people behave and interact
  • Artifacts – these are the more visible and tangible parts of a culture and includes things such as uniforms, buildings, logos, mission statements, and goals  
  • Behaviours – often seen as “just the way things are around here”.

Why is culture so important?

A commonly used quote from Peter Drucker, the influential academic, proclaims that:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”

That is to say that, without an effective and healthy corporate culture, organisations will be unable to deliver against their strategy and meet their business objectives. This is pretty tough to argue against.

Moreover, it is borne out by research on culture, performance, and the long-term effectiveness of organisations. According to the PWC Global Culture survey 2021​, having the ‘right’ culture can provide a genuine competitive advantage ​and lead to demonstrable business outcomes including:

  • Improved revenue​
  • Higher employee satisfaction ​
  • Higher customer satisfaction ​
  • More effective ways of working (during the pandemic)​
  • Greater success with change initiatives.

Additionally, it can have a hugely positive impact on things like employees’ morale, commitment, productivity, physical health and emotional well-being – so it is a win-win for organisations and their people.

Organisational culture issues

The big problem with tackling organisational culture is in the scale and scope of what is involved. Plus, it can be intangible meaning it’s tricky to know where to start. For most business leaders, that is almost certainly why they choose not to do anything about it.

“Over 90% of leaders said that they could probably improve their culture. Fewer than 20% said that they had actually done anything about it. People get it; they just don’t do anything about it.”

-Jack Heskett (Duke University study / McKinsey.com)

The precise nature of culture challenges tend to be unique to a particular organisational context. That said, most of the recurring issues we have played back to us by clients can broadly be linked back to one (or more) of four areas:

  • Aligning culture to strategy ​
  • Negative impact of existing culture ​
  • Bringing consistency across multiple organisation cultures ​
  • Becoming more inclusive.

How to measure & change your culture

Let’s say your leaders are aware of a business case for culture change. What next? Well, you need to measure your culture, to provide a clear line in the sand on where you are currently and to diagnose the specific culture issues that exist. For this you need a culture diagnostic.

You might think that a broad-spectrum employee engagement survey would give you this insight, but this wouldn’t give you the full picture. Such surveys are, by definition, designed to measure engagement or the employee experience. They also capture views from an individual perspective, assessing the individual opinion of one’s own experience. What’s needed to get an accurate picture of your culture is an organisational perspective, to assess individual opinion of organisational attributes.

Our recommended approach includes:

  • Using a specialist, validated diagnostic tool with 6 culture dimensions
  • Alignment of your culture and strategy
  • A dialogic approach: facilitating dialogue on the future state (action / focus groups)
  • Assessing impact of current culture and(desired) future culture.

Culture change outcomes

At the end of this kind of process you’ll have a culture-specific action plan – a blueprint. This will outline ideas and guidance on exactly how you can move towards the identified future culture. But this is no quick fix – effecting culture change is about evolution, about shifting behaviours and changing patterns. It is hard! But the prize forgetting it right is huge.

Culture can have a wide-reaching impact on an organisation and every one of its people – and this can be a positive or negative one. The diagnostic process is just the beginning, albeit it is a fundamental step in bringing your people along with you on the journey and ensuring they have a voice in the future culture you, together, aspire to create.