Is Your Culture Great or a Mere Guise? 
A Warning for Boards & Execs

  • Knowledge
  • Observations

Getting a direct read on the value of a designed, aligned culture is difficult; some would say impossible. However, indirect indicators of the value of a poorly aligned, unhealthy culture stand out like prawn’s eyes as we have seen recently with some iconic brands.  Shareholder value erosion, talent attrition, reputational indices and poor customer satisfaction, all point to culture.

But what if, on the face of it, these indicators in your organisation, are seemingly tracking well. How do Boards and Executives ensure that their organisational culture is aligned and underpins ongoing performance? Increasingly, they develop and rely upon a “dashboard” of measures collated by management and it’s encouraging to see the advent of near-real-time culture survey pulses in many organisations. A client working with our strategic partner Teamgage, who extended the monthly pulse surveys to all staff recently, remarked that an immediate outcome was the frequency and effectiveness of conversations between line leaders and team members.

Admit you don’t know…

“There are no easy answers when it comes to culture so it’s okay to feel out of your depth. It’s a rapidly evolving space and most people working in people and culture are struggling to keep up. So, it’s understandable if you have more to learn about culture. But to learn more you’ll have to get comfortable asking uncomfortable questions”.

Didier Elzinga, Founder and CEO, Culture Amp

Beware the “proxy” measure giving a false sense of comfort.

The great Joe Jackson sang “If my eyes don’t deceive me, there’s something going wrong around here” But what if your eyes do deceive you and what appears fine is actually going wrong?

It’s a director’s job to ask uncomfortable questions and delve deeper and here are a couple of areas to shine your torch; Engagement Scores and Diversity and Inclusion indices:-

Engagement Scores

For years these have been considered a reliable proxy for culture health. However, we are noticing the collision of two often hidden factors can give rise to misleading engagement results.

  1. Firstly, during turbulent and uncertain times, dependence on a job can lead employees to tolerate more and recalibrate their orientation to the organisation to preserve their position. We call it “adherence” not engagement – adherence as in, grasping on, limpet-like, to their role and organisation.
  2. In “life-style” locations where employees and especially professionals can nurture both a family and a career, this adherence phenomenon also plays out. Take Adelaide in South Australia for instance where my fellow directors live. It is a much -maligned, best-kept-secret city with amazing ….well everything!

For employees of national or international companies especially those with potential residing in such locations, there’s a constant tension of expectation that hi-po’s will move to bigger cities. A company a friend worked for, had an excellent talent
program but one unspoken policy…”If you are not mobile, you are not talent” that immediately consigned the “patently talent” to blatantly latent!

When “adherence” plays out, it can lead to diminished ambition, less inclination to rock the boat or take risks but all the while appearing to be happy and a team player. And a reasonable engagement score – nothing to see here!

Diversity & Inclusion

Many organisations have invested heavily in this especially the gender agenda and many do deep work on pay gaps, other diversity dimensions and so forth but there’s the propensity again for your eyes to deceive you.

With Dr Jess Murphy, we’ve railed against the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) label as being too passive a term for what is actually required to get new and valuable outcomes.

“When I was 9, my mother, an early-years educator, offered a neighbour and single mum of Afro-Caribbean  origin, to care for her 5 year old son David before and after school. In those days, in the coal mining heyday in Derbyshire, England, this was highly unusual. David was invited to my 6 year old brother’s birthday party and he came along but sat away from the over-whelming throng for much of the afternoon – he was included but not involved”!

What really matters is not just inclusion but real involvement of different thinking. Difference and Involvement (We call it D&I²,) is the key. We urge clients to team groups to bring the difference of perspective and involvement to real work by design. We seek to diminish hierarchy by selecting teams “diagonally” through the organisation and prepare teams to not only deliver new outcomes, but to recognise opportunities to create “culture nudges” and build impactful narrative around the work.

Whatever you think is the state and health of your culture, an alternative inspection and some introspection, will reveal new truths.

If this article raises any issues or concerns, please call us for a confidential conversation.