Blog | The 4 Factors that Underpin your Culture and how to Really Understand them
Published 22 May 2019 by
Today it seems we’re surrounded by a growing volume of institutionalised corporate malpractice. From the VW emissions scandal, to cover-ups around sexual harassment, and banks rigging of the Libor rate, all of these cases have caused both major reputational and financial damage to businesses.
What do they all have in common? Culture. Essentially bad behaviour has been normalised thanks to cultures which seem to reward and therefore encourage it. The problem is that many senior managers see culture as intangible and therefore difficult to measure, monitor or change. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that while there’s a wealth of research in the area of culture, most of the tools available to measure and manage it are academic, complex and difficult to apply effectively in the real-world.
The capacity for an unhealthy culture to destroy a business is something that keeps CEOs up at night. Yet it is still not effectively being addressed, as the flood of scandals shows. Creating a high-performing culture isn’t just a defensive move to head off reputational damage either. It unlocks innovation, empowers your people, improves customer experience and directly impacts your revenues and stock price. It’s time to get serious about measuring and managing culture.
The good news is that there are effective ways to understand and change your culture, moving it to high-performing. Based on a presentation I recently gave at the Employee Engagement Summit, we’ve put together a simple framework to start the process, focused on the four factors that underpin culture:
Culture is unconscious
This is the main reason culture is perceived as difficult to change. People often don’t stop and objectively think about what they are doing. For example, while the vast majority of managers (male or female) see themselves and their organisation as committed to equality of opportunity, our own research has found that they unconsciously value and reward traits that they defined as masculine (such as assertiveness) over ‘feminine’ ones such as empathy. This affects a whole range of decisions regarding talent and career progression and has a direct impact on the number of women in senior roles. In this way, culture is a major cause of the Gender Pay Gap. It is the fruit of unconscious bias.
Culture is collective
It is reinforced by what everyone does, normalising actions that would otherwise be seen as discriminatory or even illegal. Again, this herd mentality has a potential impact on the bottom line. Failure to tap into a diverse range of skills, experiences and backgrounds leads to poor decision-making and a lack of understanding of customer needs.
Culture is formed around behaviours
This is the key point about measuring and developing your culture. By observing behaviours, you can uncover your culture in action. What’s more, the behaviours that support a high-performance culture are very well researched and understood. This means that desirable and undesirable behaviours can be defined and measured.
Culture driven by common assumptions
People learn very quickly what they can and can’t do within an organisation’s culture. Essentially make unconscious collective assumptions about the consequences of specific actions, “if I do this, this will happen”. For example, if I speak up and contradict my boss in a meeting, I’ll get in trouble, rather than be listened to. Assumptions such as this become very powerful drivers of behaviour. Change these behavioural consequences in a consistent way and the underlying assumptions can be permanently reframed. When this happens, you have changed culture.
Becoming more aware of your culture and its consequences is a business necessity. So, for organisations looking to better understand and get to grips with their company culture, Questback is hosting a webinar with Engage Employee on Tuesday 28th May at 12 noon. Titled Culture: Measuring the ‘unmeasurable’ it will explode the common myths about culture and set out a practical framework for change.