3 Reasons 'Culture' Can Be an Elusive HR Goal

February 19, 2019 - 8 minute read

Company culture is a phrase that seems to be said by many, but understood by few. Culture is an ambiguous term by nature; intrinsically we know it’s an important aspect of any organization of people, but it’s hard to pin down what it actually means to the business world. According to the Harvard Business Review, company culture…

“... guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time”

We know that company culture fits within the realm of Human Resources, and is highly important for building corporate identity and employee retention. But does Human Resources really have the power to guide and influence the direction of company's culture?

The answer is YES!

Blog Image 1 - The answer is yes

...as long as you get the reasons behind your strategy right. 

Putting little thought, or no thought at all, into the type of culture your company wants to promote can have disastrous effects on the longevity of your business. Without proper thought and strategies put into place a toxic culture will certainly arise, leading to unmotivated employees affecting the productivity of your operations, high turnover rates and negative employee brand awareness.

To prevent a toxic culture breeding in your workplace, it’s important to ensure the culture goals of the organization are both achievable and realistic. For example, aiming for perfect employee satisfaction scores is neither achievable nor realistic (unless perhaps you run an ice cream tasting factory?!). However, creating a culture where open communication is rewarded and encouraged is realistic and can be easily achieved, given the right tools.

Here are three scenarios when culture will become an elusive Human Resources goal;

When the focus is external, not internal

We all know Simon Sinek’s memorable line from the Millennials in the Workplace interview: and millennials will say “we want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and bean bag chairs.”

We might laugh at this sentence, but how many companies are highlighting company perks in their job postings these days? Of course these are appealing to employee prospects, but this incorrectly places the “free food and bean bags” as an important factor to look for in a future employer.

Blog Image 2 - BeanbagsThe most troubling thing about this is so many people confuse company perks, such as food and foosball tables, with company culture. It really makes you wonder if a ping pong table at work is the symbolic band aid to a toxic workplace culture.

Does this mean we’re saying ditch your company perks? Absolutely not. The perks you may offer your employees do have importance; they show you’re invested in their satisfaction, you value their contribution and you want them to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Perks can certainly offer ROI, such as higher retention rights and positive employer-brand perception, but the bottom line is that they do not equal a healthy workplace culture.

What to focus on instead:

  • Educate your leaders (and yourself) on what truly defines a culture. We recommend reading The Culture Blueprint by Robert Richman, Tribes by Seth Godin, and of course Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. Aim to hire people who understand the value of corporate culture, too
  • Conduct an internal value research to understand what are employees personal values, what they think the current company values are, and their desired company values
  • Focus on the way your company makes employees feel when they work, rather than giving them perks and fancy office spaces that act as a distraction

When the frontline is forgotten

Communication is a key ingredient to your company culture; it improves productivity, employee happiness, and has a positive effect on absenteeism and turnover rates. Transparent, open and honest conversations amongst employees help to fuel this effect, with face-to-face communication helping to break down barriers and formalities.

But what do you do when your company comprises of multiple locations, with many frontline staff, and you only have a top-line view of the way these teams work?

For companies to thrive in the digital age - where customer service is competing with a few clicks on a computer - engaged employees are key to providing exceptional customer experiences. If your company culture goals are too focused on the needs of your head office, you’re discounting the needs of employees (who can often be the driving force of the companies success) which can lead to disengagement.

What to focus on instead:

  • Ensure all communication surrounding company culture is relatable (and feasible) for all members of your workforce. For example, wanting to create a flexible work environment, where all employees are free to adapt their schedule to suit their lifestyle, wouldn’t apply to a fashion business with shift workers operating their retail stores
  • Find a solution for engaging your frontline employees to help them feel supported - they’re often the workers who need it the most! All employees need to feel valued, respected, be able to understand their contribution to a larger purpose. Make technology work for you by investing in a communications platform that promotes the flow of communication for every team member, from head office to shop floors, and enables cross-location interaction amongst employees
  • Don’t forget method of delivery when devising an internal comms plan regarding company culture - a printed email on a bulletin board just won’t cut it these days. Ensure the company culture message is being reached directly by every staff member right from the source, head office

When feedback only occurs in employee reviews

You’ve read the books, you’ve surveyed people across the board. You have a pretty good understanding of where the company culture is currently at, and where it needs to go, to achieve a great culture. But unless an effective feedback loop is put into place, your plans will only result in a perception of your company's culture... not a reality.

So how do you gain feedback on the effectiveness of effort to guide the company's culture? Is it through another survey? Or do you wait to receive results from the next annual review? The answer is to create a feedback loop that ensures employees consistently have multiple avenues to provide feedback, and this knowledge is shared amongst the organization.

Blog Image 3 - Feedback

Creating consistent behaviors around feedback in all areas of the organization helps people trust each other enough to share openly and more often. If promoting a “culture of feedback” isn’t one of your goals, then it should be.

What to focus on instead:

  • Train managers on techniques for giving and receiving feedback - this will ensure alignment about expectations, and overall clarity on process
  • Provide a secure and private way for employees to communicate any thoughts or concerns, such as an Enterprise Social Network. Some people find verbal communication of their problems confronting, but it doesn’t make their feedback any less valid
  • Build a cross-department team responsible for driving a positive company culture, such as a “culture crew”. Task members with interpreting feedback and finding creative solutions to help guide the company's culture to where it should be
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Louise Blair

Written by Louise Blair

G'Day mate! All the way from "down under" Louise has joined Speakap to help businesses to build better relationships with their workforce. When she's not busy producing the Frontline podcast, you might catch her running... while listening to a podcast. (Disclaimer: she has never actually said "G'day Mate" in her entire life)