Why is a winning culture so important? Over the past 3 decades I’ve come to understand the key difference with organisations which are successful is getting the culture right. I started my career back in the late 80s in the public sector before moving into the corporate sector in the noughties, and whilst culture varied from one sector to another and different again between organisations, culture was/is the ingredient that brings everything together or can push it apart, and perhaps even more importantly, provide you with a sense of direction. In 2012, the year of the London Olympics, I took the bold step to establish my own consultancy (esp Group) which brought another learning curve, however, one constant remained the same; setting the right culture through identifying the vision, mission, values and behaviours, which has become our DNA on our journey to date.
At the beginning of the year I joined the LATCo Network board, and in this role I’ve been party to many conversations with different leaders and stakeholders across the country, listening to instances of success and challenge, and in every single case, culture has been the common rider. Culture is a key factor, even where I work with leaders to provide exec coaching, culture has often cropped up as a root cause or a key discussion area. Culture is all around us and part and parcel of everything we do, so I have decided to write this short piece to share my own experience towards creating the right culture!
Step 1: Define it.
You need to ask three key questions towards shaping your culture:
- Why do we do what we do? (i.e. why do you exist?)
- What do we believe? (i.e. what are your values?)
- Where do we want to go? (i.e. what is your vision?)
Without answering these you cannot define your culture let alone align towards it. As an example, at esp Group we focus all our activity on our mission to ‘deliver success, build trust’, that is why we exist. We follow 3 core values to always innovate, be tenacious, and behave with integrity, all towards our vision to be the go-to trusted partner for orgs and individuals needing help. Today we work with both the public sector and corporates across 15 different industries. Focusing on your culture as early as you can is the key. Without this clarity employee engagement can struggle, morale will suffer, and before you know it you will be on the back foot. Your vision, values and behaviours are the foundation stones that will cement your organisational culture.
Step 2. Business Strategy.
You can’t have one without the other. Culture alone is not going to deliver the goods. Culture and Strategy are inextricably linked. If you have a good strategy but a weak culture, you are quite likely to fail, again with a poor strategy and good culture you will still fail. You need both. Be clear about the outcomes and benefits to be gained. Ensure a clear and shared understanding starting with leaders of the strategic outcomes and objectives to be achieved and how this will be accomplished. Build this picture with Managers across the organisation who will be instrumental in implementing to avoid ambiguity and create the ‘compass’ which sets the direction of travel.
Step 3: Commit Resources.
An obvious one, however one often overlooked. Dedicate time, energy and commitment to establish the right culture. Ensure buy-in from the top as culture change will require a strategic, long-term approach. There is no quick fix and the larger and more complex the organisation, the more resources it will require.
Step 4: Communicate.
Once you have defined your culture and benefits, help the organisation own it. Go beyond putting up posters on walls. Implement a campaigning mentality, with champions leading conversations across the organisation. However, communication is 2-way so ensure balance and build in the capacity to listen and collect feedback. It’s about being dynamic and sustaining dialogue, this is not a task and finish exercise, but one which needs to be continuous. Open all available channels to encourage comment and debate including informal channels such as WhatsApp and social media. It’s about being confident and aligning towards your organisation’s purpose and encouraging behaviour change.
Step 5: Role models.
A key one. Lead by example, we all take cues from what we see rather than what we’re told to do. Having defined and tested the behaviours required to create the right culture, it is vital that every opportunity is used to demonstrate these with senior stakeholders leading the way, so it flows down from the top. Alongside the current leaders, consider managers who will become the future leaders tomorrow and will sustain the culture change when it is in place. What are you doing to develop the future leaders?
Step 6: Change processes.
Culture is generally intangible, it’s the element that is often invisible however we all recognise it when we see it or feel it. Processes can be the closest component you can probably address in translating culture into a tangible. Apply the 80/20 rule, consider which operational processes have the biggest impact on your organisational culture. This can be both good and bad processes. It might be a process which has always been done a specific way, but no one has ever actively asked why we do it that way and is there a better way? Which processes could you change? Tackle both processes and behaviour change at the same time. Do NOT try to change everything at once, be guided by employees as to which processes will enable the biggest impact.
Step 7: Measure change.
Employee engagement survey is a common method, so consider how effective your survey is. Does it ask the right questions? Most organisations will elect to do this once a year, however this is something that should be ongoing throughout the year, it’s about keeping your finger on the organisational pulse. What do external stakeholders think about your brand and culture? Connect leadership to the frontline and seek honest feedback, gauge the extent of behavioural change, use online community forums to identify successes and barriers. Identify one or two measures that could serve as highly visible unifying metrics. There are many ways to do this… consider which is the best option(s) for your organisation.
I hope my short piece has served to provide some useful insights and pointers on shaping a winning culture at your organisation. If you would like to find out more about this topic, or about the LATCo Network, or the work I do at esp Group, please feel free to drop me a line.
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Farooq Mohammed is a thought leader with a varied portfolio including roles with the LATCo Network as an exec Board Member, SME Expert (Adviser) to the UK Govt and Founder/MD of esp Group, partnering with corporate and public sector organisations on a wide range of projects and services. To find out more visit www.linkedin.com/in/f42ooq