How Leaders Can Improve Culture At Work
What impact can a positive culture at work have versus a mediocre or toxic one? Is it worth investing the necessary time and resources to bring about cultural change? If you’re pondering these questions, it’s time to learn how to improve culture at work and discover how you, your team and organisation stand to benefit.
Some commonly held misconceptions about organisational culture include:
- It’s only about having fun at work.
- It’s about free perks.
- Celebrating employees and giving recognition is a waste of time and money.
- It’s HR’s job to improve corporate culture, not the leadership team.
- Culture forms itself through employees.
- Fear-based culture achieves faster results.
But, the reality is good company culture, well beyond free knock-off drinks and a table tennis table in the office, will elevate your employee experience and organisation in a host of valuable ways. For starters, research demonstrates that companies with positive cultural characteristics are more likely to achieve increased employee retention, engagement, morale, loyalty and motivation.
This article will explain what organisational culture means, the benefits of a good culture and the biggest obstacles to change, before delving into strategies leaders can explore to boost culture in the workplace.
What Is Corporate Culture?
At Inkling, we see corporate culture as incorporating the beliefs, visions, communication processes, attitudes and behaviours that govern a work environment. Accepting that a work environment might need to change is an essential, yet often daunting concept for businesses and leaders. But to productively and cohesively work towards common goals, learning strategies to change and advance culture is crucial.
A positive culture at work creates an uplifting and inclusive working environment for employees and reflects the values of the company, all whilst serving specific business needs.
Benefits of positive corporate culture:
- Research shows having a connected culture and highly engaged employees can lead to a 202% increase in performance.
- Companies that actively manage their culture boast 40% higher employee retention. Culture is about more than attracting talent. It also plays a huge role in retaining your top performers.
The biggest obstacles to cultural change
Part of improving organisational culture is identifying the pre-existing gaps in your current capabilities, and accepting the need for change where necessary. Another part is accepting that it’s not an easy road. You are likely to come across obstacles to change and it’s important to be aware of them.
Based on our experience working with organisations of all shapes and sizes, here are some of the common obstacles to be mindful of on your journey to improve corporate culture:
- employee resistance
- ineffective communication
- change fatigue
- lack of leadership.
Strategies To Foster Enduring Cultural Change
To bring about cultural change an organisation’s leadership team needs to be equipped with the right tools and knowledge to guide team members through business changes and steer them in a new direction as required. We feel clear company values, open communication and leadership buy-in are the three key elements to successfully bring about change for the better. Let’s look at each of these strategies individually.
Create inclusive belief and value systems
Positive business culture should create alignment to the goals, values and beliefs of an organisation. However, a disconnect occurs when employees are not actively included in refining these goals, values and beliefs, or company values are not communicated well to employees.
Businesses may create a set of values that guide the way they operate, but if employees aren’t aware of them, they won’t be instinctively working towards them. Gallup’s research shows that when asked what their company stands for only 41% of employees expressed that they strongly agree. This highlights the importance of improved communication and collaboration between employees and leaders to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals, objectives and feels a strong collective sense of purpose.
Harvard Business Review suggests leaders take action to ensure business values are communicated effectively with employees. If the organisational beliefs and values don’t resonate with the day-to-day aspects of your employees, the message gets lost.
To spur cultural change by giving team members a better understanding of the company’s values, leaders need to regularly communicate the organisation’s values to their employees beyond onboarding and annual meetings. This could involve surveys, focus groups and team days to discuss, refine and evolve the company’s values and goals, revisiting values and goals in performance reviews or a quarterly awards program to reinforce values that are being successfully displayed.
It’s important that leaders and employees work together to ensure cultural shifts in the workplace can happen smoothly.
A study of corporate culture by Ivy League professors Gary B Gorton, Jillian Grennan and Alexander K Zentefis suggests workplace culture is intentionally shaped by at least one firm leader, such as a manager or CEO, to achieve business goals. Therefore, leaders need to set a good example and model the positive cultural behaviour they want, and their teams will follow suit.
When unmanaged or unregulated, the culture of an organisation can become a secondary concern and so it is up to leaders to recognise the need for change and take the necessary steps themselves to inspire others. According to HR Dive, 71% of managers say they know how to motivate their team. Only 44% of employees, however, agree.
Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight. We know habits and behaviours are deeply embedded in people and companies. Moving your employees toward your vision requires an understanding of what motivates people to change.
So how do you motivate employees and get the best out of them? We suggest organisations run leader and employee focus groups to learn how different team members are motivated and find the right blend of motivators to drive lasting change from the top down.
Open channels of communication
Creating open channels and opportunities for communication between managers and employees is so important when striving for corporate cultural change.
This might look like the inclusion of employees in decision-making and meetings about important issues, anonymous surveys, and opening up conversations to everyone across all departments. By offering psychologically safe opportunities for employees to speak up, give feedback, and feel seen, you are sending a message to employees that you value their feelings, ideas and contribution.
A secondary benefit of open and regular communication is that team members feel comfortable bringing issues forward to managers, so leaders can quickly identify areas of dissatisfaction and simmering cultural problems before they can take root.
Feedback is a key element of open communication that, when issued effectively, boosts employee engagement and the quality of their work. Research shows that employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.
Monthly performance reviews are a fantastic way to establish two-way open communication between leaders and team members, and they go a long way to building a good culture of ongoing growth and feedback.
Tips for leaders on giving and receiving feedback:
- Give direct-reports recognition for their good work regularly.
- Engage with team members to understand what would make them feel heard and valued as an employee.
- Be open to listening to employees’ ideas and concerns, and take action on them.
Inkling Insight: Many businesses face challenges when it comes to giving feedback. Offering employees positive or constructive feedback supports the motivation principle of mastery, and employees can’t achieve mastery if they don’t know what they’re good at.
Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose
In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink explains the critical considerations to build a thriving company culture. His method of motivation shows results due to the push for intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic rewards using the following three principles.
The idea of self-directed work on an autonomous basis. Leaders that allow employees to self-manage their work may motivate them to complete work more efficiently.
How to apply the principle:
- Remove tight schedules.
- Creating flexible working hours.
- Endorse remote working environments.
The idea of consistently growing, improving and mastering your work. By leaders issuing employees with helpful feedback, employees feel like they are growing and are motivated to continue to excel.
How to apply the principle:
- Match tasks with the right individuals.
- Issue constructive feedback and deliver it effectively.
- Consider ongoing training.
The idea that employees will feel more motivated to do work that serves a higher purpose or achieves something greater than themselves.
How to apply the principle:
- Ensure everyone understands the vision for the company.
- Align employees who are hired, with the goals and values of the organisation.
Make cultural changes stick
Today’s leaders are faced with the complexity of managing their own emotions as well as guiding their team through ongoing uncertainty and change. But via open communication, establishing clear values, and leading by example, leaders can control and foster a positive culture with numerous individual and organisational benefits.