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Mark Ellis

CultureTransform Limited

Author & Director Of Service Operations at Opentext

Read more about Mark Ellis

How to take control of your company culture


While most people join companies for the job and the salary, they stay there because of the culture. Deep down, most of us want to be part of a group that has the same belief systems and passions. Financial rewards are necessary, but they don’t actually make us loyal or happy in the long term.

There’s no such thing as a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ culture. If you’re in the technology field, you may want to work for Apple, but not for Microsoft. Or for Google, but not Facebook. Twitter not Oracle.

A big part of this is down to how you perceive the company’s culture from the outside, which is why employer branding is so important.

One of the biggest influencers of company culture is how well you can engage your employees. This means assuming that people are smart, motivated and can contribute great ideas and good work to your company – and then trying to create an environment where they feel good about doing all of those things.

Why should you take control of your culture?

Before you ask about ways to ‘control’ culture, you have to understand why people would want to. Almost all businesses want to do this to save money or make money. The biggest savings come from reducing voluntary attrition (staff turnover where people just hand in their resignation). The biggest benefit comes from attracting the best people, and then getting the most from them.

Make sure that employees are never punished for being honest – nothing kills culture faster.

Other benefits? Engaged employees take half as many sick days according to the CIPD and there is plenty of other research showing better stock market performance, increased innovation and a decrease in workplace accidents.

So, how do you start to control the culture of your organisation?

1 The closest influencers that people have are their manager and their peers

If you want a consistent culture then make sure your managers are appropriately trained – this will be different in the Navy Seals than it would be in a Starbucks, or in the IT Department of Ford, or in the England Rugby team.

The trick is making sure that your manager training fits the culture you already have or the culture that your company aspires to. Dramatically inconsistent management approaches are often the root cause of performance issues.

2 Measure your employees’ perceptions of their managers

Most companies have a clear vision and values statement – these could be expected behaviours, core values, a strategic vision or a mission statement. When you join a company, you expect to be working towards a common goal within this framework. So measure how close to the behaviours on the wall each of your managers is seen to act.

Asking for your employees’ opinions, and then sharing the results, keeps people motivated to share further information. But make sure that whatever the feedback is, employees are never punished for being honest – nothing kills culture faster.

3 Act on employee suggestions

A manager who asks for help, ideas or advice from their team and then does nothing with it will never get anything of value from their team. If you are asked ‘how would you do this better?’ and nobody listens, why would you answer the question the next time? Scaled up to an organisational level, this tends to be the predominant reason that employee opinion surveys don’t work well.

4 Don’t make exceptions for the best performers

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, famously once said “Don’t tolerate brilliant jerks”. He meant that sometimes in your teams the best performers can be rule breakers that pay no attention to culture and annoy those around them (while typically getting away with this behaviour).

Although there is a place in all teams for occasional heroics, if you have people that consistently annoy others then they will drive their teammates to leave the company, and send a message that the ‘values’ are just words. This will cost you far more than keeping the bad influence.

5 Measure the effects of your culture change

You can come up with multiple ways to control culture, but unless you know which ones work it’s all pointless. You can do this by looking at employee engagement levels, looking at the results of management perception (point two above), or analysing where the highest employee turnover is.

Take a step back, assess your current organisational culture and compare that to the business plan – then start your journey.

Measuring the effects, and talking to employees about them, will likely drive people towards the right cultural behaviour – and, of course, acting on what you measure is critical.

6 Get the hiring process right

Make sure that you explain to people at interview stage what the culture of the company is.

In an ideal world, you should test them either with skilled interview techniques or appropriate tests to check they fit. Getting control of cultural influence this early is good management practice – and will reduce early attrition.

Start by assessing your current culture

These six points on how to change your culture are all effective ways to steer the ship in the right direction. But most of the companies I work with have no idea of what their dominant culture is, or what it supports – and different divisions and regional offices demonstrate different flavours of that culture and different levels of engagement.

So before you start anything, make sure that you know exactly where you are starting from, and where you are going. Take a step back, assess your current organisational culture and compare that to the business plan – then start your journey.


One Response

  1. Why would you not make
    Why would you not make exceptions for the best performers? Isn’t it worth keeping around some brilliant people, because they’re generally the ones who come up with the visionary ideas?

    Corporate culture doesn’t have to be beige. It doesn’t have to be bland. But there seems to be this push to pasteurise and homogenise everything, so that no-one stands out, and no-one’s ever offended or challenged in the workplace. Just good little beige drones, grinding through the allotted tasks with the regulation amount of enthusiasm.

    There’s more ‘culture’ in the suspect yogurt at the back of the fridge.

Author Profile Picture
Mark Ellis

Author & Director Of Service Operations at Opentext

Read more from Mark Ellis

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