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Nigel Hillier



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How to build a positive corporate culture


Every organisation has a culture, which is based on who its people are, what they say and how they act.

But wise companies recognise the potential and power that fostering the right culture can generate.
Strong, positive cultures are the basis of successful organisations because they tap into workers’ collective energy and define common responsibilities and clear values that guide the way people act.
The challenge faced by HR directors, however, is that all too many organisational cultures are still stuck in the 20th century and are based on leadership models and mechanisms that originated during the industrial revolution.
But it is now crucial to move from using traditional hierarchical command-and-control cultures to ones that embrace trust, support and collaboration. It is about migrating from belief-based ‘I know’ cultures to ones founded more on values and intuition: where knowledge is not power, but is powerful.
Too many firms still hold to the idea that engagement is a corporate communication strategy, however – something that is done to employees. But engagement is something that people experience. Therefore, what an organisation does continually affects that experience.
As a result, it is vital to take a more holistic approach towards thinking about people – their networks, management styles, working practices and environment – in order to help them reach their true human and commercial potential.
Building a positive culture
Cultures need to be nurtured in order to flourish and succeed into the long-term. They are energised by releasing each individual’s passion for what they do and enriching their experience.
Therefore, a compelling and consistent working experience will increase engagement. This is important because engaged employees are critical to organisational success. How people view engagement depends on where they sit in the company, however.
HR will have its own way of measuring engagement, which includes focusing on what motivates employees to make those discretionary efforts that help boost performance. But it is also valuable to understand colleagues’ approach to engagement in other functions.
The internal communications team, for example, is likely to concentrate on creating opportunities for open and honest dialogue across the organisation.
Because the marketing department, on the other hand, makes promises to customers about what they can expect when they buy products or services, brand managers will be keen for staff to ‘embody the brand’ in order to ensure that they deliver the right customer experience.
Moreover, since this experience will reflect the organisation’s internal culture, it is clear that it has an impact on the company’s ability to deliver on its brand promise.
This means that, in order to build a positive culture, the HR team needs to harness the views and experiences of the whole organisation. In this way, HR can ensure that the creation of an effective culture becomes a strategic objective and that all relevant functions contribute in a joined-up way so that employees enjoy a consistent and engaging experience.
To ensure that this takes place, there are a number of key activities that HR professionals need to undertake when working with these three core groups: leaders, marketing and internal communications teams:
1. Working with leaders
Edgar Schein, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, said: “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.” So leaders determine the culture of an organisation – and can create a positive one by clearly articulating its purpose and living by its values.
To achieve this, however, HR must work closely with senior managers to help them express these aims. They must also be encouraged to share the organisation’s ambitions or purpose above and beyond shareholder value.
But this, in turn, means subscribing to goals that have deeper meaning and greater societal value than simply profit alone and that also engage the spirit as well as the intellect.
Once the organisation’s purpose has been identified, it is necessary to clarify how leaders will be expected to behave in order to achieve that purpose. Such values are the pillars of an organisation’s culture as they let everyone know what is important and guide them when making day-to-day decisions.
Leaders must understand the impact of everything that they say and do and the fact that all of their conscious and unconscious actions should reflect corporate values.
As a result, it is important to educate senior leaders in ‘walking the talk’. Since people respond to what they experience, leaders must act as role models and embody corporate values in order to develop a culture of ‘behavioural leadership’. This means empowering everyone, no matter where they sit in the organisational hierarchy, to lead with confidence.
2. Working with the marketing team
Once the organisation’s purpose has been clarified, activities across the entire organisation need to be aligned to help it achieve its vision and goals.
To this end, HR should partner with the marketing team in order to ensure that organisational values and workers’ behaviour are in keeping with the customer service promise. All too often, employees are asked to get behind two apparently separate sets of values or behaviours – customer and organisation – thus creating confusion.
Reward and recognition policies and incentives can be employed to encourage people to ‘do the right thing’, however.
But ensuring that organisational and individual goals are aligned also encourages employees to accept personal responsibility for their own performance and understand how everything connects across the organisation as a whole.
3. Working with your internal communications team
It is one thing to articulate the organisation’s purpose, but quite another to inspire people to get behind it. Emotional commitment is four times more powerful than rational understanding, however.
As a result, HR would do well to encourage the internal communications team to create an inspiring organisational story. Capturing the hearts and minds of staff and having them commit to a shared purpose will go a long way to keeping that story alive. Then ensure that the organisation’s purpose and values are evident in all internal and external communications.
HR can influence leaders as well as marketing and communications professionals to make the connection between business objectives, customer experience and the way that workers behave clear and transparent. But to truly transform the organisational culture, everyone simply must move beyond the narrow confines of their own organisational silos and work together for the greater good.
Nigel Hillier is a partner at change management consultancy, Uffindell.
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Nigel Hillier


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