What Makes a Strong Organizational Culture?

– Sukhdeep Aurora, Group Chief People Officer 

‘An organization’s culture must evolve in the next five years for their company  to succeed, grow, and retain the best people.’ That’s what 80% of people said  in an eye-opening 2018 study from Deloitte. Culture no longer fits in the  confines of token birthday cakes and team outings. Culture today is an integral  part of corporate strategy and has been shapeshifting over the years to  include multiple meanings.

So, what does culture mean exactly?

According to Richard Perrin, Partner, Head of Advisory, KPMG Moldova,  “Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to  integrate the members of the organization.”

In today’s increasingly dynamic job market, this need to integrate members  has become more urgent than ever. There has also been a tectonic change  in how candidates, especially millennials, look for a job. In addition to the  normal parameters of pay scales and benefits, job seekers today evaluate  organizations for the best fit. While you may be looking for the people who best  fit your company’s culture, they are trying to find whether your company is the  best fit for them.

And how can you be that organization? The one that everyone would be  excited to work for? In my 20 years of experience working in across multiple  industries, I have seen that there are a host of factors that go into the making  of a culturally strong organization. I am attempting to describe a few top of  the list here.

Establishing clear values  

When terrorists took over the Taj Hotel in Mumbai on that fateful evening in  November 2008, it immediately made headlines the world over. But as the  harrowing attack was being brought under control, another piece of news  grabbed the world’s attention. Of how various employees showed exemplary  behaviour by risking their lives to save the lives of several guests and helping  them escape. They had clearly acted on their own imbibing the core values  of the Tata Group, which are hospitality and service.

Laying down well-defined values gives employees watchwords to belong to. It  inspires them, mobilizes them, and creates a sense of involvement. We at  ANAROCK have clearly articulated and ingrained our values in everything we  do, be it business or internal engagements.

The IKEA effect

Participation and involvement is one of the crucial ingredients of a strong  organizational culture and can be illustrated by the IKEA effect. The concept,  described as part of consumer psychology, is quite simple. When a person is  involved in building even a part of a product, they are immediately filled with  a sense of pride and tend to assign a greater value to the end result. Similarly,  in an organization, employees feels more motivated and experience higher  job satisfaction when they feel that their participation is crucial to the  company’s success.

A 2017 study from Bain & Company across 400 companies who had  successfully achieved their goals for transformation rated engagement and  participation as the top factor. The ability to effectively engage all the  employees as one towards achieving the company’s goals was rated more  than 50% higher than even competitive strategies. Among the participants,  four out of five agreed that “today’s business leaders must trust and empower  people, not command and control them.”

For any transformative program to succeed in the workplace, it needs to  function as a unified whole with employees being the engine. As Antoine De  Saint-Exupery, said in The Little Prince, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum  up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead,  teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Driving entrepreneurship 

In other words, employees feel empowered with the autonomy they have  been given, and this fosters entrepreneurship. “Self-organization enables  employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of  reporting to a manager who tells them what to do,” says Jon Wolske, former  Culture Evangelist and Insights Manager at Zappos, in an E&Y article.

Indeed, after Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, introduced holacracy, a system of  decentralization and self-management, in 2013, the company announced  sales in excess of US$ 2 billion by the end of 2015. Interesting, right?

At ANAROCK we have attempted to create and assign P&Ls two to three levels  below the CEO along with empowering them with financial decisions. This has  helped our mid-level managers understand the linkage of their decisions to the  top and bottom line a lot more clearly, thereby driving real entrepreneurial  behaviour at each level.

A rewarding culture 

Not only is individual entrepreneurship a crucial part of a robust organizational  culture but also one that is bound to create palpable impact. As a Salesforce  2017 report pointed out, employees who felt their voices were heard were 4.6  times more likely to put in their best effort. 

But embedding transformation at all levels in the organization also calls for  follow-through; an acknowledgment of the employees’ dedication. After all,  who doesn’t want recognition for a job well done? 

A good recognition program is one of the key ingredients for a balanced  culture. In a Globoforce report, 85% of HR managers surveyed said that  employee recognition and reward programs are an important part of  organizational culture and boots engagement. It does go a long way in  humanizing employee experience at the workplace, which in turn increases  retention and productivity. Designing a reward and recognition program that  goes beyond rewarding performance and includes aspects like recognising  desired behaviours (and thus strengthening desired culture at workplace),  celebrating life events, and rewarding new business ideas have an extremely  positive impact on employee morale.  

A diverse culture 

But there is another reward that you can give your employee, which is crucial  to establishing a harmonious work culture. Recognizing their identity,  background, and individuality.

The recognition of diversity is a key factor in assessing the robustness of an  organization’s culture. It is also inexorably linked to the performance,  profitability, and effectiveness of an organization.

Qantas Airlines CEO Alan Joyce can vouch for that. In 2017, the airline  registered its second-highest profits ever, and Joyce attributed their success to  a “very diverse environment and a very inclusive culture,” as he told The Australian Business Review.

And how do you define that inclusion? A truly robust diversity and inclusion  initiative is all-encompassing. The Nukkad Teafe in Raipur gained popularity  and has excellent customer retention for not just its food but also because it  employs hearing and speech impaired staff. In Wipro’s sprawling campuses,  Braille signages, wheelchair ramps, and voice-activated elevators well and  truly embrace and include the differentially abled into the organization.

This year, L’Oreal USA was one of the companies that achieved a perfect 100%  score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual Corporate Equality  Index, which ranks US companies for their efforts to include the LGBTQ  community. The company is proud of its partner benefits programs, awareness  and accountability programs, and other initiatives that drive its mission of  ‘Beauty for All.’

A Manpower report that came out in 2015 shows that 59% of corporate leaders  believe that one of the most powerful changes that an organization can bring  about is a gender-neutral culture. And it can be achieved only by getting past

what Manpower calls an ‘entrenched male culture,’ and consciously including  all genders and sexual orientations across all levels, diversity in leadership, and  recognizing different needs. And that, I strongly believe, is a potent ingredient  in making a culture rich and vibrant.

Infrastructure that supports culture 

However, even the most lovingly built cultures can begin to unravel if an  equally carefully designed physical infrastructure does not support it.  Workplace design is crucial in effectively maintaining the company’s culture  as it has been shown to have an impact on employee wellbeing and  engagement.

Again, it comes down to having autonomy. A 2016 global study by Steelcase noted that 88% of employees who had more control over their workspace with  the flexibility to choose where and how they worked along with  accompanying equipment like good lighting were highly engaged and productive.

An open office plan, for example, promotes transparency and encourages a  healthy and collaborative culture. It is more welcoming, immediate, and  fosters a sense of community. We at ANAROCK across all our offices follow the  No cabins, No doors culture which along with beautifully designed  collaborative spaces enable employees to be more interactive and  approachable.

However, an open office plan does not suit all types of businesses, and one  needs to choose wisely. Perhaps, designing some areas in the open office  model while retaining privacy in others might work better. Ultimately, the key is  to leverage office space to the maximum in building a resilient workplace,  which is in effect, the core of a strong organizational culture.

Building culture that’s unique to one’s company is tricky and requires  investment of thought and leadership time more than any other resource.  There is no perfect recipe, but there are tried and tested ones. One needs to  keep working on it, keeping room for culture to evolve positively given that changes in economy, competitive landscape or organization’s business  strategy itself may warrant a change in some if not all aspects of the culture.

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