Why good culture is more effective if you keep it simple

| April 16, 2020

Employee engagement and culture issues recently exploded onto the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report and became the number one challenge around the world. It highlighted that an overwhelming 87 percent of respondents saw the issue as important, with 50 percent citing it as very important which was double the previous year.

Because of COVID-19 culture is a hot topic and as a result leaders are trying to improve the employee experience by improving the culture of the organization as they adapt to a new way of working. MIT research has shown that enterprises with a top-quartile employee experience achieve twice the innovation, double the customer satisfaction, and 25 percent higher profits than organizations with a bottom quartile employee experience.

The challenge is that people are complicating the conversations by applying a “change management” approach. The measurement tools involved in culture change programs are alienating change fatigued and cynical staff who struggle to understand the definitions, statistics, reports, graphs, charts, and data being presented. Ultimately this is leading to mediocre results.

It’s far more effective to engage in discussions about Organisational Purpose. Discuss why the company exists and what you want to achieve – not in terms of targets or KPIs but in terms of the company’s contribution to making the world a better place. People need to feel their work has meaning so try to create a compelling statement that will motivate at a deeper level.

It’s a topic people want to discuss. Employees want a career, purpose, and meaning from their work so instead of presenting data to change weary people you will achieve more by engaging them in a conversation about a topic they care about. Involve people in a process to create a purpose for the whole company and then ask leaders to engage with their teams to discuss what that means for them as a team. People need to personalize why they exist in the context of delivering the company purpose even if it results in slightly different statements. Alignment is more important that uniformity.

The next step is to engage in conversations to define a target culture. Ask simple questions like “what attitudes and behaviours will we need to deliver the purpose?” It’s a rich and motivating conversation that engages people in the purpose and culture of the business.

It’s best to define the target culture in one word, or two at the most. Keep it simple, memorable, and something that will get people talking. Don’t make the mistake of over complicating things with a series of values with expanded definitions that will be forgotten. Make it something that will actively stimulate a conversation. One word, the catchier the better. The objective is not to create a definition, it’s to create a conversation about the attitudes and behaviours needed to deliver the purpose of the organisation.

To make this work leaders need to be accountable for culture and willing to engage in conversations with their people. For many this means a different style of leadership in which they listen, facilitate, and guide conversations to reach a group decision. Leadership skills will need to shift from instructing to engaging; telling to listening; and directing to facilitating to reach a common outcome. Stop confusing and alienating people with complex definitions and data. Engage people in a conversation about the culture needed to deliver the purpose of the organisation and transform your business.