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Jon Maddison


Managing Director EMEA

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How companies can build a high performance, people-first culture

Culture is key when it comes to navigating the current crisis.

Every organisation that wishes to achieve long-term success understands the fundamental importance of culture. Align your employees with your company culture and they’ll feel more valued and report greater satisfaction. Invest in establishing a strong culture and you’ll appear more attractive to potential new recruits – 77% of whom will have researched your culture before considering becoming a part of it. Once they’ve joined your firm, culture will be one of the most important factors in them staying with you.

One of the best ways of surviving any crisis is through maintaining culture continuity and making sure that strategic decisions are informed by core company values.

Microsoft is one company that has reaped the rewards of focusing on improving its culture. Having become CEO in 2014, Satya Nadella has replaced the company’s previously fierce internal competitiveness with a drive towards continuous learning. From a valuation of around $300 billion when he took over, Microsoft’s market cap is now close to $1 trillion.

The risks of failing to establish a vibrant culture within your organisation are also keenly appreciated. Employees who’ve failed to buy into your culture are more likely to show signs of disengagement and low morale, which will inevitably lead to higher levels of employee churn. These potential advocates for your business will instead be found attacking it on social media and leaving negative reviews on Glassdoor.

Cultural alignment versus cultural continuity

If we’d needed any reminding of the vital importance of cultural alignment at the start of 2020, we were just about to be given the greatest example in the last decade: Covid-19.  The pandemic has affected every organisation around the world and, in many cases, has had a major effect on business operations. Culture reinforces an organisation’s ability to manage this upheaval and uncertainty, so it’s probably fair to say that attending to culture has never been more important.

It’s only natural for a seismic shock on the scale of Covid-19 to feel like a unique challenge, but change management research reveals the qualities that have allowed companies to survive all manner of similarly disruptive events, from financial crises to mergers and acquisitions, and even natural disasters. Whatever the situation, culture has always played a crucial role in the success – or failure – of organisations during these difficult periods, and culture alignment in particular.

Culture alignment describes the extent to which a company remains in touch with its core cultural values and aligns its whole operation with those values. During a crisis, however, it’s culture continuity that determines the extent to which an organisation is able to maintain that culture.

During times of increased pressure, companies can easily fall back on a reactive approach to operational issues and problem solving, which ignores their cultural framework. Ultimately, however, one of the best ways of surviving any crisis is through maintaining culture continuity and making sure that strategic decisions are informed by core company values.

Recent research into employees’ feelings of connection to their organisation’s culture and colleagues during Covid-19 has emphasised the extent of this challenge. The research revealed that a third of British workers felt disconnected from their company’s culture and their co-workers during the pandemic.

Eight steps to building a high-performing culture

So how should organisations go about establishing a culture of continuity that will allow them to remain resilient during difficult periods? The best place to start is with a clear plan featuring measurable objectives against which you can track your progress.

1.  Encourage regular recognition and employee participation

The positive long-term effects of regularly recognising every employee cannot be overstated. It’s widely accepted that making employee praise a key component of your culture will improve your organisation’s employee engagement, retention and productivity. By linking recognition to company values and desired behaviour, you’re more likely to develop the culture alignment and continuity you’re seeking.

2. Develop employee voice

Start by inviting instant feedback via tools that capture employees’ genuine feelings, such as pulse surveys and workplace chatbots. Once you’ve analysed the findings to understand where you need to improve, act quickly on that information to reassure your staff that their views are taken seriously.

3. Managers should lead by example

Culture starts at the top, so leaders need to embody the cultural values your organisation prizes. Employees will quickly notice a gap between management rhetoric and actual behaviour. Worse, they might even begin copying undesirable behaviour if they are convinced that their superiors have been rewarded for it.

4. Stay true to your values

Your culture is founded on your company values. Of course, it’s a good idea to begin with a mission statement, but remaining true to your values involves embedding them across the organisation in your customer service, HR policies, rewards programmes and external activities, such as volunteering.

5. Promote employee collaboration

Although encouraging close bonds between employees is a vital part of establishing a resilient culture, remote working and high-speed communication can hamper those connections. Team building activities are one way to promote closer interpersonal ties, and it’s also worth looking for common interests among team members, particularly if they represent different generations.

6. Make sure staff keep learning

Continuous professional development and investing in improving employee skills should form a cornerstone of your culture. Developing your workforce’s soft skills can lead to higher employee engagement, while profitable firms are twice as likely to adopt the latest learning platforms compared to their competitors.

7. Ensure new recruits are a good cultural fit

During recruitment, quiz potential employees on their cultural values and find out why they want to work for your company. At the same time, cultural fit is an important factor but a loaded term, so stay open to diverse thinking to ensure your culture remains relevant to the full range of your stakeholders.

8. Tailor employee experience to the individual

Your employees are used to personalisation in their private lives and they expect the same at work. Take advantage of pulse surveys and employee-journey mapping to find out your employees’ personal values, as well as their vision of the ultimate company culture.

Whether you like it or not, your organisation has a culture. To prevent that culture from becoming a heavy drag on your efforts to take the business forward, stay focused on it and actively shape it. The three crucial elements to remember are: communication, recognition and action.

Interested in this topic? Read How to nurture your company culture during Covid-19.

Author Profile Picture
Jon Maddison

Managing Director EMEA

Read more from Jon Maddison

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