Fewer than 1 in 10 businesses have cultures that are understood. Why does this matter and how to address it?

Guest Blog from Claire King, Programme Director at Innovation Arts 


One thing we hear time and time again recently is corporate leadership’s need to support both change initiatives and day-to-day operations whilst managing greater flux and uncertainty than ever before.


The spotlight often falls on HR Directors, with those who rise to the challenge usually being stewards of a strong and agile culture, underpinned by clear, lived values.



Why does culture matter now more than ever? As well as being instrumental to managing talent throughout the employee lifecycle, lived values and behaviours also play a vital role in delivering an organisation’s strategy and objectives, particularly in times of transformation.


Corporate cultures must not only keep pace with rapid transformation, but organisations must be able to engage, inspire and motivate employees to ensure a constant stream of innovative ideas while supporting recruitment efforts and reducing retention issues and their associated costs.


To add some extra spice, with employees from the millennial generation now reaching positions of leadership, organisations need to think differently about how corporate culture is leveraged. Today it is no longer possible to dictate values and associated behaviours and expect them to be absorbed and acted on accordingly. Now, employees see their company as one part of a larger system where customers, communities and employees interact for social good in order to make a positive impact on the world around them. What worked fifteen years ago will not work in this brave new world.


How is your organisation doing? Here are five key indicators that suggest your company culture might need urgent attention:


1. Employee behaviour & ways of working are impeding achievement of corporate objectives

2. Values are not integrated into the pattern language used every day by employees

3. Leaders to do not refer to the values when taking decisions

4. There is a cultural disconnect between Leadership and the rest of the organisation

5. Employee surveys show high levels of dissatisfaction, suggesting that the stated values do not reflect actual or lived values


Unfortunately, for the majority of companies, culture is still seen as a ‘soft’ KPI that is hard to pin down or influence, and corporate values have little influence on promoting positive employee behaviours and supporting strategic imperatives. Instead, the ‘words on the wall’ contribute to a confused workforce who feel they lack engagement and purpose.


There is a clear cost to the business of not having culture nailed: Gallup’s State Of The Workplace report 2017 estimates the cost to the UK of disengaged employees as between £84.3bn and £87.2bn in lost productivity. Gallup attributes much of this to companies’ lack of ability to keep employees engaged in the face of an ever-increasing pace of change.


Overall we estimate that fewer than ten percent of organisations prioritise and achieve clear, impactful corporate values that support their overall business vision and strategy and are clearly understood and lived on a day-to-day basis. When it’s clearly so important to the health of the company, why might that be?


One reason is that there is simply an erroneous assumption that values are doing their job. Another is that getting started on addressing culture can be tricky: employees are reticent to admit that they don’t understand their company’s values, or perhaps interpret them differently to their colleagues. This can be a difficult conversation with a boss, especially higher up the organisation. Thirdly, we all understand that Culture is a hard beast to tame, but even more so when you are focusing on transformational change and growth. It can seem like too mammoth a task to start work on when the company is already overstretched, leading to a vicious circle.


Even where the executive committee decides to prioritise a corporate culture initiative, with so many demands from the company’s day-to-day business, HR directors leading the charge can face a huge task without additional support. It can be hard knowing where to start, and how to get the reach and sustainable outcome desired whilst still managing risks and hitting stretching timescales.


Fortunately, along with the new challenges we face today, we also have access to innovative approaches that can respond to these complex, challenging requirements:


• Design thinking takes a systemic approach that breaks down and analyses the complexity and often conflicting priorities.

• Collaborative approaches that stimulate ‘group genius’ can stretch people’s thinking and align all levels of the organisation around a fit-for-purpose corporate culture.

• Games science allows employees to have an open and frank conversation about how company culture works in practice, so groups of colleagues are motivated to own their company’s values and bring them to life.


Incorporating these approaches into your HR toolkit can be game-changers in the quest to transform an antagonistic culture into one that really works, both for the business and for employees.

Claire King is Programme Director at Innovation Arts, a globally-recognised hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency based in the UK, North America and Europe whose focus is on creating the optimal conditions for diverse groups to solve together any complex organisational challenge. Contact Claire at [email protected]

Author: Editorial Team

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