Dealing with the Culture Conundrum

We often dismiss ‘culture’ as a load of self-serving consultant speak.  Companies roll out initiatives designed to improve the working culture, there is a big hurrah, then things would settle back to the way they have always been.

But, since culture is all about creating a positive and productive environment, we should really pay it more attention – and ensure we make sustainable changes.

Jean Gamester from Semaphora has long been fascinated by work culture, about how to create and sustain environments that people feel great about being part of, where they can deliver positive results.

Here is her advice to help us all grapple with the culture conundrum.

You need a proper purpose

I’ve spent some time in some dysfunctional companies and one of the things that turned me off was the sense that the purpose of my hard work seemed to be to make money for shareholders and nothing else. That’s just not going to engage people and make them want to do anything beyond what gets them through the day or gets them their own personal goals.  If you want people to put in the extra mile and put the organisation’s goals first, then they have to have something worth working for.  Better still, get them involved in exploring and shaping that purpose, and they will make it their own purpose too.

Values and behaviour do matter

Organisations that are clear on their values, and actually hold themselves to account are far more likely to have a culture that reflects those values.

Take the time out to work with your people to decide on the values you want to have at the heart of your business.  The values that, if people live them, they will be successful in your world.   Be clear on what kinds of behaviour is expected, accepted and what kinds of behaviour are not.

Make sure your most senior people are prepared to stand by them, especially when the tough decisions are to be made.

Make it systematic

This is the point where most culture makers give up.  They’ve created the purpose they have lovely values written on a wall somewhere, they think the job is done.

Culture change is only going to work if you make it systematic.  That means that whatever methods you use to do performance management, recruitment and promotion need to embed the behaviours you have defined.  If someone who is constantly rude gets promoted when you have a value of respect then the system is broken.

Equip your leaders

To make it systematic, managers and leaders need to be equipped to be strong people leaders, and need to understand that people leadership is a priority rather than a distraction from the day job.  They need to have, or develop, strong emotional intelligence so that they understand themselves and their reactions to the world, and can manage good relationships with others.  They need to be able to have constructive and challenging conversations not just with their staff – they also need to be able to speak truth to power.   And power needs to listen.

The consequences of not dealing with cultural issues can be tough – and in order to make it work well you need strength and courage.  But if you do focus on your purpose, values and desired behaviours, if you work to make sure they are at the heart of all you do, you will have a great culture.  And with great culture comes infinite possibility.