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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.