Culture is a combination of the values, beliefs, behaviors, attitudes and actions carried out by people.
It’s a shared understanding of a collective goal that everyone is working towards. Woven together, these things create a particular atmosphere or ‘feeling’ in an organization.
If you’ve ever worked somewhere with a toxic company culture, you’ll know that it can be pretty tough. A bad culture can create friction and problems at every level. It impacts the individual in terms of their mental health, wellbeing, motivation and productivity. It impairs team cohesion, collaboration and trust, and ultimately has an effect on the businesses’ bottom line.
On the flipside, when you’ve got a positive, thriving company culture it will most likely have the opposite effects; it’s easy to attract (and keep!) great staff and innovation and collaboration are high. This is linked to better individual and team performance, greater morale and improved business outcomes.
Good culture is a unique asset that’s near impossible to put a price tag on and should be defended ferociously.
How important is organizational culture?
In a study of North American CFOs and CEOs conducted by Columbia Business School, all of them agreed that culture is an important contributor to company performance and value:
So how can HR tech help you to protect this all-important culture? Let’s take a look at five ways.
1. Keep your finger on the pulse with feedback
While generally fairly stable over time, organizational culture is not immune to impacts of significant events. Periods of rapid growth or downsizing, shifts in strategic direction and staffing changes, particularly at senior levels, can nudge your culture in a different direction quite quickly.
Culture is famously invisible until it goes wrong, so how can you spot changes early? By listening to feedback from your people.
There are many ways to engage with your staff to get feedback; you can gather it in real time through 1:1 conversations or team meetings, or collect it through asynchronous communication options, allowing staff to complete surveys at their convenience. Engagement surveys, regular monthly wellness check-ins and short eNPS questionnaires all help to understand how staff are coping at work.
Doing this regularly will give you a reliable baseline for how your organization functions at a cultural level (no more relying on intuition!). As you use the same survey questions each time (i.e in a monthly wellness check survey), you’ll build a reliable, data-driven map of your cultural landscape. You’ll also be able to quickly identify any changes on the horizon and take steps to protect against threats to your culture.
You can ask a range of questions when gathering feedback, ranging from general organizational ones (i.e. how are you enjoying working here?) to specific individual ones (i.e. how are you coping in your role?).
The below questions will help you to assess various aspects of culture. Using a Likert rating scale (i.e. from strongly disagree to strongly agree) will yield more granular data and as well as encouraging more honest responses.
- My organization is supportive of my career development needs
- My workplace meets my most important expectations
- The people I work with live by our company values
- My workplace is free from bullying/discriminations/favouritism
- I understand how I can contribute the organization achieving its objectives
- I see myself working here in x years time
You can also ask open-ended questions to dig deeper:
- How’s the work environment? (this one is subtle but really powerful)
- What do you like most about the culture of working here?
- What would an even more joyful place to work look like to you?
2. Act on what you hear
“But how do we get people to tell us the truth?” If surveys are new to your organization, the prospect of getting people to give regular feedback on company culture can be daunting.
The most effective way to encourage employees to give honest feedback about the organization is to act on it.
If your people are telling you something small isn’t working and you take steps to fix it, they’ll trust you enough to tell you about bigger things. The story will spread and make your feedback process part of the way your organization does things (also known as ‘culture’). Acting on feedback creates a virtuous cycle which is why we believe in continuous feedback.
Knowing leaders are making key company decisions based on data and feedback from across the business fosters trust and confidence in both the leaders and the decisions. When HR has reliable information at its fingertips on what’s happening in the organization at both a macro and micro level, it can confidently participate in making those decisions.
One intelliHR client improved their ‘Great Places to Work’ rating from 60 to 86 in the first year with us and then to 96 in the second year by surveying and following up on what their employees told them. They used our analytics pages to quickly identify common trends and themes in real time, then acted on them at a grassroots level. This produced massive improvements in trust and collaboration, as well as measurable improvements in business outcomes for teams.
3. Commit to transparent processes
Transparency breeds trust, a key element of great culture. For example, when it comes to performance-related processes like reviews, if both supervisor and team member have a clear understanding of how the process works and have the information available to them that they need, then it’s more likely to be perceived as a fair and equitable process.
In intelliHR, both managers and employees can access a performance summary report which is essentially a dossier of the employee’s performance over time, goals, training, self-evaluations and any diary notes. Rather than trying to remember back what’s happened over the last 12 months, this creates a much more transparent and effective review process.
Build processes that make sense and serve the needs of your people. Then document and follow them consistently and communicate any changes. It sounds simple, but it shows your employees that you care about them, you hear them and are committed to creating a great place to work – which will, in turn, help preserve your culture.
4. Empower your leaders
Acting to protect and grow culture needs to happen at every level of the organization. While senior leaders set the vision for the company, it’s frontline leaders who’ll carry it out. The way these leaders act and live out a company’s values (or otherwise) shapes your culture just as much as the intentions of a CEO.
It’s vital that your leaders are aligned with your organizational culture as this has a flow-on effect to the way employees feel and work. A leader’s energy level, mood and actions are infectious; whether it’s for the better, or worse, is up to you and the structures that support them.
HR tech can help protect your culture through good leadership in a number of ways.
Firstly, you need to cultivate great leaders. HRIS and people management systems like intelliHR can be used to identify and develop leaders in various different ways.
- Identify employees with the necessary skills or experience for available leadership roles to promote from within before starting to look externally.
- Identify leaders who might need more support or training through feedback from their teams (i.e. if happiness ratings are suddenly falling below the average or normal level)
- Use automated people processes as a scaffolding to support new leaders as they manage employees for the first time.
- Include career development in performance reviews to create a pipeline of junior staff members/leaders-in-training who could become leaders down the track.
- Plan your workforce: know who’s coming and going so you can get proactive. This includes identifying employees who might be retiring and using predictive analytics to know the likely turnover in different teams for the next 12 months.
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Secondly, empower your leaders to create a supportive, trusting and productive environment their team members can thrive in. As we mentioned before, this can be achieved through continuous feedback, 1:1 conversations and employee engagement. By collecting feedback you actually give leaders something to talk to their team about in a structured way. An HR system like intelliHR puts information at leaders’ fingertips, helping them to make sound, people-centric decisions to help teams reach their full potential.
It’s also crucial to recognize and reward your leaders (just as they do their team members). HR tech can help you to give credit where credit is due through goals and performance tracking.
5. Tailor your system to you
If you’re looking at upgrading your HR tech, you’ll likely want to streamline or automate your processes, but not lose who you are as an organization.
Important to protecting your culture is ensuring the system you choose reflects your business and its values. Change can be hard, but alignment makes it easier for your staff to adopt and accept.
According to Robert Richman, author of The Culture Blueprint, culture exists in language, so the feel of your HR system matters. To protect your culture, the look, style, voice and wording should be ones that your people are familiar with.
A customisable solution like intelliHR can be built to reflect your language, your needs and your culture:
- Branding: add your logo, images, and branding to your platform, dashboard and emails so that from the moment employees log in, it’s truly yours.
- Workflows can be built to match the way you work (but with less manual effort!)
- Language: change certain words or terminology to suit your language.
- Scheduling: if you want to pulse your surveys more often, you can. If you want to do an ad-hoc survey that can be created and distributed in minutes, consider it done.
Systematising your HR processes in this way helps to ensure you deliver a consistent, on-brand experience for all your staff, whether it’s onboarding, wellness checks or performance reviews, all of which contribute to a positive, trusting, stable organizational culture.
By taking advantage of HR tech and tools to perform your core HR activities in a way that aligns with your business’s values, you can protect your organizational culture. Moving beyond simply protecting culture, HR tools like intelliHR give you back capacity to focus on enhancing it, taking “the way things are done around here” to the next level.
Want to know more? See the platform in action.