It’s generally accepted today that organisational culture is as important as strategy in determining business success – “how” we do things is now seen as being on a par with “what” we do.

Thanks to social media and sites like Glassdoor we’ve all heard stories about toxic organisational cultures that serve as stark warnings for leaders and HR professionals – pay attention, invest in nurturing and cultivating your culture, or pay the price.

But it’s not always quite so black and white. Many of us work in high-performing, successful organisations where the people are friendly, the leaders supportive, and we feel pretty engaged and valued most of the time.

However even in these culturally mature and high-functioning organisations, there are some common ways in which the culture can be limiting business success. Here are four questions to consider that may help identify how your culture could be holding your organisation back:

  1. Does your organisational purpose provide a “common thread”?

Without clarity of your overall organisational purpose and strategy, your culture may not be aligned to business needs, leading to lack of belief and trust, or misunderstanding of business decisions.

This can also lead to the emergence of sub-cultures driven by functional goals. While in any organisation of scale there are some tangible cultural differences across departments, there should be a common thread that connects the entire business. Without a clear purpose providing that connection, functional goals can drive different behaviours that cut across stated values, the creation of silos and divisions, and ultimately competition between departments rather than cooperation.

  1. Are your leaders aligned?

And it’s critical for leaders to align behind organisational purpose as well. Most high-performing organisations understand the role of leaders in influencing culture, and invest in enabling leaders and managers to be role models of company values and preferred behaviours. So far so good, but while they may be role models, are your leaders aligned behind your organisational purpose when it comes to decision making, or are there signs of functional team primacy? Leaders looking out for their own interests rather than the good of the whole organisation can result in slower decisions, create unconstructive conflict and deepen any silos that exist. Not to mention making life difficult for their teams as they try to work cross-functionally, finding solutions to both meet the needs of the business and please the boss.

  1. Do employees have a voice, and are you listening to it?

Since the Engage for Success group published the four enablers to engagement, the idea of employee voice has become much more widely understood. Most organisations now provide opportunities to “have your say” and ensure communication is two-way and participative. But in the same way as communication is more than broadcast of messaging, employee voice is more than contributing feedback. For colleagues to really feel their views, ideas and concerns are valued, these need to be listened to and reflected on, action needs to be taken and communicated, and changes seen and experienced.  Failure to do all these things can impact engagement and the sense of inclusion, but also limit creativity and innovation. How often do you hear colleagues saying things like “we’ve fed that back but not heard anything since”, or “there’s supposed to be a project looking at that but I’m not sure what’s happening”. Could you be doing more to harness the views and capability of employees? And what could be the potential impact?

  1. Does the day-to-day employee experience truly reflect the desired culture?

I’ve yet to work with an organisation where there isn’t a moment of eye rolling at a particular way of working that everyone seems to know isn’t right, that sits at odds with the stated culture, but that has become almost accepted as “how we do things”. It could be ineffective meetings, inability to get time in leader’s diaries, or the fact that the canteen in one office is significantly better than in another? It can be easy to dismiss these things as unimportant but they can dilute your culture and inhibit performance. So, you may say your leaders are accessible and open but if it takes a month to get a time-slot to talk with them, then are they really? You could spend a fortune introducing agile working but if meetings are constantly being rearranged or repeated because everyone’s busy and someone always arrives late or leaves early, then are you really working in an agile way? And does it really demonstrate equality if half your team enjoy three daily lunch options, while the rest make do with a sandwich van? These things create a subtle “say –do” gap that opens up questions of integrity.

 

There doesn’t need to be a crisis or burning platform to create the momentum for cultural change.  Your organisation might be performing well, your employees might enjoy working there, but does that mean there’s no room for improvement?

What’s holding your organisation back from being the best it can be?