work culture, corporate culture, workplace culture, workethics

Cultivating the right corporate culture

Summary. The key to success for any business is to integrate your corporate culture into your business strategy. Find out how it works in this article.

“Culture affects every aspect of your company, from the public’s perception of your brand to your employees’ job satisfaction to your bottom line. Because there’s so much at stake, it’s important that your corporate culture is adaptable and open to improvement – which starts with being able to articulate just what kind of culture your company has.”

Building on the integrated culture framework J. Yo-Jud Cheng and Boris Groysberg presented in “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture”, the duo launched an online assessment on Harvard Business Review for readers to explore their own organisations’ cultural profiles. They received over 12,800 responses from across the globe between December 2017 and May 2019. The findings reveal that culture appears to most directly affect employee engagement and motivation, followed by customer orientation.

Why Corporate Culture?

The topic on corporate culture is no longer novel. Over the past decades, many founders and chief executive officers have discussed their company’s cultures and values, even when not specifically asked about it. This brings up the question: With corporate value statements being nearly universal, how much do they really matter? Critics often dismiss the topic of “corporate culture” or “corporate values” as cheap talk with no impact on employees’ day-to-day behaviour, and see them only as a company’s means to brand itself. Nonetheless, this does not contradict with how organisational culture inevitably influences the company’s underlying business operations, human resource development and in greater prospect, its internal and external identity.

In a recent article published in Harvard Business Review, although leaders admitted that an unhealthy company culture can impact engagement, a disconnect remains. Leaders may believe they are putting in the work to build and improve, but the reality is that employees do not feel the same. Nearly half of employees (45 percent) say leadership is minimally (or not at all) committed to improving culture. This discrepancy can lead to business repercussions, such as voluntary turnover that can cost organisations up to two times an employee’s annual salary.

The idea of corporate culture is never really overblown; instead it is becoming even more important as the modern workplace continues to evolve. Today, a strong culture is a common denominator among the most successful companies; all had consensus at the top regarding cultural priorities, and those values focus not on individuals, but on the organisation and its goals.

The Importance of Integrating Culture and Strategy

Strategic planning impacts culture, and culture impacts strategic planning (Image credits: Heyden Enochson)

Strategy and culture are among the primary levers at top leaders’ disposal in their never-ending quest to maintain organisational viability and effectiveness. Strategy offers a formal logic for the company’s goals and orientates people around them, while culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms. That said, integrating business strategies alongside culture encourages the workplace to be driven by purpose and clear expectations. It encourages high levels of workforce engagement, as employees feel the strong connection to the organisation while its people create an atmosphere of positivity that is hard to ignore. Various authors have reviewed the literature on culture and distilled eight distinct culture styles as follows:

  1. Caring: Focused on relationships and mutual trust;
  2. Purpose: Exemplified by idealism and altruism;
  3. Learning: Characterised by exploration, expansiveness and creativity;
  4. Enjoyment: Expressed through fun and excitement;
  5. Results: Characterised by achievement and winning;
  6. Authority: Defined by strength, decisiveness and boldness;
  7. Safety: Defined by planning, caution and preparedness;
  8. Order: Focused on respect, structure and shared norms.

These eight styles fit into an “integrated culture framework” according to the degree in which they reflect independence or interdependence (people interactions), as well as flexibility or stability (response to change). This makes it easier and more quantifiable for corporates to pay greater attention to clearly establish or cultivate a work culture of their own, though we always recognise the value of culture as being incalculable.

Peter Ashworth further explains that organisational culture “defines for you and for all others, how your organisation does business, how your organisation interacts with one another and how the team interacts with the outside world, specifically your customers, employees, partners, suppliers, media and all other stakeholders.” Sometimes, this is the one factor that marks the distinction between corporations in the startup economy today as they leverage and differentiate themselves in the market. Ultimately, a strong culture can be a significant liability when it is misaligned with strategy.

The Core Engine of Corporate Culture: Communication

Communication is critical to developing a strong organisational culture (Image credits: Caroline Duncan)

Just like how every individual is unique in their own way, every company has its own unique cultural code, and adopts an idiosyncratic personality just like people do. Cassie Paton identified five main types of corporate culture as the following:

  1. Team-first corporate culture aka “the comrade”
  2. Elite corporate culture aka “the athlete”
  3. Horizontal corporate culture aka “the free spirit”
  4. Conventional corporate culture aka “the traditionalist”
  5. Progressive corporate culture aka “the nomad”

These cultures are often backed by commonly shared values whereby companies will need to decide which are the ones they want to emphasise. Organisational culture manifests itself in a variety of ways, including leadership behaviours, communication styles, internally distributed messages and corporate celebrations. This brings out the core engine of cultivating and building a corporate culture to be none other than: Communication.

Miscommunication is the main reason people become unsatisfied with their jobs and start looking for other opportunities; and conflicting messages regarding corporate culture may create distrust and cynicism, which in turn demotivates employees. Experts say that cultural inconsistencies may also cause workers to grow discouraged, to doubt statements from higher-ups and to be less inclined to give their best effort.

Building a Culture that Aligns with Your Company’s People

Company leaders play an instrumental role in shaping, building and sustaining the organisational culture. If the executives themselves do not fit into an organisation’s culture, they often feel out of place, and certainly less motivated. Consequently, when organisations hire C-suite executives, these individuals should have both the requisite skills and the ability to fit into the company culture. In addition, managing a culture takes focused efforts to sustain elements of the culture that support organisational effectiveness.

Matching culture to brand identity is critical for your business success (Image credit: Stanford Centre for Professional Development)

Nonetheless, here is something to remember. Employee well-being strategies have the potential to bring huge benefits to employees and employers alike but they need to be introduced in the right way for the right reasons, and of course, at the right time. To be properly effective, they need to be developed in a holistic way, consistent with a business culture that is conducive to their success.

Writing in Forbes, George Bradt explains further: “People fail in new jobs because of poor fit, poor delivery or poor adjustment to changes down the road. Assuming you’ve aligned the organisation around the need for your new employees and acquired them in the right way, your onboarding programme should accommodate their needs, assimilate them into the organisation and accelerate their progress (so that they can deliver and adjust).”

To an ordinary employee, culture is way more than just monetary perks and worker’s incentives. It is about the knit, the bond, the team spirit and simply, the eager-to-come-to-work-every-single-day attitude. In other words, organisational culture is about living your company’s core values. Nonetheless, a corporate culture will not be a culture without the reciprocates from its direct employees. That said, here is something for every individual, employer or employee, to ponder about:

"Are you uncomfortable because you disagree with the culture or because it’s challenging? The latter could actually make for an incredible growth opportunity – but it does require you to be open and resilient."

How do Companies Walk the Talk?

Your organisational culture reverberates across all aspects of your business because it represents the way you do business. What’s more important, is to realise and understand that it is never too late to establish one. Candidates today are seeking workplaces where they can intertwine their beliefs with those of the company, and work together on a common vision of purpose and success. Hence, it is all about shaping and building a culture that unites people around a common cause. A great culture should provide continuous alignment to the vision, purpose, and goals of the organisation.

There are many tools for developing and sustaining a high-performance organisational culture, including hiring practices, onboarding efforts, recognition programmes and performance management programmes. The biggest challenge is deciding how to use these tools and how to allocate resources appropriately. Ultimately, like what Natalie emphasises, “what gets recognised gets repeated, and leaders that leverage recognition as an everyday tool for building strong culture will outperform organisations that fall flat on culture”.

Because it’s the thought that counts – Socium Thoughts bring together our thoughts and opinions on all things communication.