Corporate culture is tricky to define and even trickier to create or modify. It is, however, an issue worth spending your time and energy on.
Corporate culture encompasses all values, beliefs, behaviours and patterns that guide your company’s internal and external transactions. It defines how your employees and management behave in any business situation. The challenge of course lies in the fact that a culture cannot be defined and imposed – rather it must be grown and developed over time.
Companies with strong corporate cultures outperform their competitors by 20 to 30 percent, as Professor James L. Heskett states in his book The Culture Cycle. As competition for talent becomes increasingly global, positive corporate culture is essential to attract and retain the best candidates. People naturally favour work cultures that they identify with.
If you plan an ambitious project that will impact your employees processes and behaviours, such as a digital transformation project, you do need to be aware of the possible impact on your corporate culture. If your culture is not ready for the change, your project will not be successful whatever the technology behind it.
So how can you influence your company culture using the modern and traditional tools at your disposal? Below is our 4-step guide for CEOs, internal communications and human resources executives, inspired by what worked for us and what worked for some of our clients in the context of their digital transformation projects.
1. Define your target culture
Corporate culture lies mainly in the unspoken pervasive values and practices of your company, yet it does help to clearly state it and then continuously communicate it in clear form to all employees, both old and new. Different formats and support can be used for this exercise.
– a vision or a mission statement for your company that provides a clearly expressed goal that will govern all of your employees’ actions;
– a set of values that form the basis of your culture;
– a set of messages relating to those goals and values;
– a set of deontology rules to apply
Just as with marketing to your clients, corporate culture messages can be communicated and marketed to your employees via internal communications channels. And just as with any efficient marketing, some messages will stick. In that sense, defining some elements of your corporate culture may constitute a self-fulfilling prophecy, or at least contribute to realisation of that culture. Another advantage of clearly defining your corporate culture is to provide employees with a base to rely upon when in doubt and a rallying statement that they can be proud to communicate and share externally.
2. Put your culture into practice
If the message you send to your employees about your desired corporate culture contradicts their everyday practices and that has no consequences, the communication will be useless.
In order to stick and become reality, the “right” behaviours and attitudes must be nurtured. Encouraging the right attitude spans several company functions including human resources, internal communications and top management.
Introducing the “right” attitudes into your evaluation practices as criteria for assessment helps reinforce your original message about their importance. Investing in your employee training for instance, while promoting self-improvement as a value, gives coherence to your corporate culture.
Social tools (your enterprise social network, your social intranet, etc) are a great way to publicly promote the right attitude daily, especially if your top management is on board.
A simple comment from a manager recognising a contribution or a behaviour and encouraging it can go a long way towards shaping your corporate culture.
Creating the right workplace environment is another effective way to drive your corporate culture in the desired direction. If you wanted a more collaborative culture, it would be a great idea to invest in a more open-plan office and in online collaboration tools.
Companies can reinforce flexibility as a message and a benefit by putting in place virtual workplaces where employees can meet, work and communicate with each other without being limited by geography. A flat organisational structure does not go well with locked doors on offices and so forth.
3. Recruit the right people
Whether you already have a strong corporate culture that you wish to maintain, or a target culture that you would like to kickstart, recruiting the right people is key.
A company is a living, complex organism – if all of a sudden half of the components think and behave differently your culture is automatically going to change. New behaviours and methods will replace old ones.
Naturally, you would not replace half of your workforce overnight, but the principle remains. Recruit some change agents – seek candidates that are a natural fit with your desired values and then encourage them in any way you can. (See point 2 above).
Of course this change can go in the right direction, but also in the wrong one. Entire books have been dedicated to the complex human resources issue of foolproof recruitment.
Suffice it to say that you should put cultural fit into the recruiting equation and keep it there, not only for initial interviews with human resources but throughout the recruitment process.
4. Mould your recruits
Finally, you should onboard and train your newcomers in the corporate culture that you wish to create or maintain.
One of the things companies with strong corporate culture all share is a heavy accent on core values, dos and don’ts when recruiting and especially when welcoming their new recruits.
On a personal note, one of my first professional experiences was with Goldman Sachs. I remember using the word “brainwashed” to describe my colleagues to my friends . I didn’t mean this as a compliment back then, but after experiencing other organisations, I surely do see it as a compliment now.
When all your employees speak with the same voice, share the same values and represent the same message to the outside world, you have achieved a strong corporate culture.
The 4 steps above can be applied in any context. Collaborative, innovative, digital savvy cultures focused on changing the world for the better are very trendy, but you do not have to be original or innovative in your company values to thrive at creating a great company culture.
Any significant change takes time, however. If you plan a digital transformation project, you do need to make sure that your corporate culture is ready for it or will be ready for it, undertaking all the necessary change management steps to ensure success in the long term. Is your culture ready for digital transformation? How can you prepare? We’ll explore those themes in future posts.