It’s about time to take in some culture

If you consider what is likely to be going on in your organisation over the next two to three years, you will almost certainly conclude that one or more of the following interlinked challenges apply in some measure; and which, left unchecked, will create potentially fundamental fissures in the foundations of your business.

The shift in the nature of work – As we know, old paradigms are no longer applicable. The concept of the “nine-to-five” or the “job for life” largely disappeared over 20 years ago; the idea that the organisation would look after your personal development is an anachronism, and it is up to us to identify and develop our own learning paths; the “comfortable place to work” has become the “challenging place to work” (and that can be either good or bad, depending on your mindset and the quality of management in your business). A future focused view sees our workplace in terms of the gig economy, increased technology, greater organisational ‘virtuality‘ (global businesses run by remote teams) and eventually, widespread artificial intelligence.

The ability to attract and retain ‘the right people’ – There are several continuing challenges facing recruiters, two of which are particularly thought provoking. The first is the lack of advancement opportunities: this manifests itself in high attrition among your best talent and is both a function of the narrowing top of the pyramid and also the inflexibility of organisational structures and reward systems. The second is the attitudinal makeup of the new generation of workers, which drives a less conventional set of workforce behaviours and results in weaker taken-for-granted organisational commitment, as millennials are more mobile and change jobs more frequently.

Developing organisational commitment and employee engagement – The Gallup organisation has been publishing survey updates for many years showing how difficult it is to shift people’s attitude to engagement, as barely 30 per cent of employees are estimated to be engaged in what they do. Now, it is clear that the drivers of engagement relate strongly to work meaningfulness: to what extent can organisations offer work that gives their workforce a sense of achievement and a feeling of having made a difference? Additionally, there is an increasing belief that engagement comes when individuals feel their personal values converge with the organisational lived values: when this happens, we all feel we can bring our authentic self to work without fear.

Even greater reliance on leaders and leadership – There seems to be an overwhelming cri de coeur from employees for authentic and empathic leadership, and leaders who can balance organisational demands with the concerns and wellbeing of their colleagues. Being a leader nowadays brings many challenges, not least of which is the need to be fit for an increasingly disrupted environment where the ‘same’ is no longer enough. For organisations, this presents a conundrum: how can leaders be selected and developed when the role is constantly transforming? As a consequence, selection planning and leadership development are increasingly focused on personal skills rather than on technical advancement. In order to be the type of leader the world needs today, the overarching agenda for leader development is about becoming behaviourally more aware, developing your authentic being and suppressing your personal ambition for the benefit of all.

All of the above (sourced from Forbes, July 2017, based on Deloitte, Randstad and Korn Ferry survey data) means there is an organisational imperative for leaders to develop a culture in which people can do what they do best every day, authentically, safely (psychologically as well as physically) and progressively.

Without the appropriate tools to measure what
the current culture is, 
what values people would like to bring to work and
what ‘good looks like’ for future success, leaders are trying to deliver all of this in the dark!

Working with Barrett Values Centre, Primeast helps organisations to answer these three questions, allowing them to develop an organisational culture that maximises employees’ sense of being part of something, of contributing meaningfully and of being able to do what they do best every day – or at least, working towards being able to. Barrett offers something that is not prescriptive or limited by norms: it provides a framework in which your employees can have open, insightful and productive conversations about what works best for them in their workplace. It also locates leaders in the role of facilitator, communicator and coach, rather than a ‘lead from the front’, ‘my way or the highway’ old style caricature.

Cultural alignment and leadership

Put simply, our underlying personal values influence what we do at work (our attitude and behaviours), which manifests individually in what we do and collectively in our team and organisational culture; this drives the way things get done in the workplace. So, our behavioural and technical effectiveness is effectively regulated by our personal alignment with the organisation’s values.

Posner & Schmidt demonstrated how clarity of personal and organisational values can lead to high levels of employee engagement (‘Values Congruence and the Differences Between the Interplay of Personal and Organizational Value Systems: The Leadership Challenge’, Posner & Schmidt, 2008). It seems pretty logical that if an individual’s values converge with those of the organisation, the workplace is likely to be conducive to high performance.  Or at the very least to be open to a discussion about how high performance can be achieved.  After all, we humans do seem to like people like us.

Values alignment also drives intrinsic motivation and personal commitment. Deci and Ryan have worked over several decades to explore the complexities of goal-setting, motivation and self-determination. They show a strong link between different types of self regulation and levels of motivation, and describe a simple spectrum between incentives based motivation and values congruence.  With an “I should” stage representing the fear of guilt and desire for praise, and an “I want” phase denoting the desire for significance and meaning in between. The point is, both practitioner research and academic work support the need for some alignment of values in order to drive high performance and enable work satisfaction (Source: Ryan & Deci, 2006, ‘Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and wellbeing’, American Psychologist, 55-1).

The interesting thing about achieving values alignment is that it starts to develop meaningful trust around the organisation, and as Patrick Lencioni shows, trust is the cornerstone of successful teaming. Trust is also a fundamental element of organisational effectiveness in complex environments (Wendelheim, 1997, ‘Effectiveness and Process in Experiential Group Learning’).  This can be observed particularly well in safety critical situations. Linked with trust, having values alignment generates a growth mindset culture: not only is it OK for the individual to grow personally as the organisation develops, in fact it’s highly desirable that this happens.  See Carole Dweck’s work for more on this. Everyone’s a winner.

The key is two way trust between leaders and their employees. Trust engenders responsible freedom and reduces the need for bureaucracy. Trust shows up in organisations when there is a commitment to internal cohesion – a shared purpose and a shared set of values.

The benefits of better cultural alignment are proven

Pulling this all together, organisational culture is a key differentiator for success and is increasingly seen as essential.  Here’s some compelling evidence of this:

  • E&Y have found that 55 per cent of the FTSE 350 companies have seen a ten per cent increase in operating profits driven by their investment in culture. Overall, 92 per cent of the board members of these companies said a focus on culture had improved their financial performance. Culture & Boards infographic
  • According to Deloitte, CEOs and HR leaders now recognise that culture drives people’s behaviour, innovation and customer service: 82 per cent of Deloitte’s survey respondents believe that “culture is a potential competitive advantage”.  Global Human Capital Trends 2016, ‘The new organization: Different by design’, Deloitte University Press, p37
  • In a PwC study, 84 per cent of leaders believe that culture is critical to their organisation’s success. 60 per cent think culture is more important than their strategy or their operating model. PwC study

What does all this mean for leaders? Well, it suggests the importance of culture should impact on our whole approach to leadership: as values shift, so too should the leader’s focus. The key leader drivers today should derive from their colleagues’ personal purpose, their development, their desire for coaching (as opposed to training or telling), ongoing conversations, their strengths and their life.

And finally, summarised from Richard Barrett’s seminal book ‘The Values-Driven Organization’:

  • Culture is the key to commitment, and commitment drives employee engagement. Employees feel committed when they are able to meet their survival, safety and security needs, and when their work gives them a sense of meaning – when they can fully express their creativity, connect with others to make a difference and make a lasting contribution to the shared purpose.
  • Commitment is further enhanced when the leaders, managers and supervisors embrace democratic principles – treating employees as equals, listening to what employees have to say, dealing with employees fairly and giving employees opportunities and challenges to grow and develop both professionally and personally.
  • When employees feel that their leaders, managers and supervisors care about them and their families, and about the local community in which they live, they will bring their full selves to work.

How can you apply some of this in your organisation?

  • David Evans, Head of Organisational Consulting at Primeast