Are we now forced to ask: What Is Essential to An Organisational Culture?

Now more than ever people need us to create conditions where they thrive. Cultures of strength, positive behaviour and close connections. Let's not resurrect bad habits that undermine performance and wellbeing. Let's seek transformation and renewal.

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Somewhere along the line, we abandoned the question of what is essential to our culture but it's now more relevant than ever.

We all know that all teams had a culture before Covid-19, and those teams will have a culture post-Covid-19. The question is, is it a culture by default or design?

A culture by default is one where the culture developed on its own when you weren’t looking at or thinking about it. The habits, beliefs and behaviours just became the norm. It generally works, but it’s sub-optimal. There is potential for more.

A culture by design is created and built with intent and purpose. It requires attention, leadership and ownership by everyone. Now is the time to imagine a post corona future that creates the conditions where people thrive. A culture built on strength, positive behaviour and close connections. Let’s not resurrect bad habits that undermine performance and wellbeing. Let’s seek transformation and renewal.

Although this period is a difficult time for many, it represents an opportunity to redefine your culture by design.

When your teams transition back into the office, they will be faced by new challenges as they adapt to the ‘new normal’. Adjusting to this new way of working while still maintaining performance and wellbeing requires a culture that brings the best out of them. A culture that supports and nurtures growth at a time when people will want to shrink back to their cocoon of safety. A culture of high performance despite the challenges.

Easy to say and yet harder in practice.

Challenge and change requires high performing cultures built on strength, positive behaviours and close connections. Follow this 4-phase approach and you'll cover the essentials.

Phase 1: Aligning of purpose, vision & values

An aligned team is a team who share a common purpose, aspire to achieve the same vision, and each individual understands how to contribute their strengths to them. Agreeing the mission, vision & values of any team is the first step you must take, if you don’t, there’s a good chance the group will never come together and work as a team.

A crystal clear and compelling purpose is the glue that binds individuals together. It is the foundation of any team. Everyone needs a purpose to believe. Knowing they are contributing to something they have designed gives them meaning and significance to do what they do. It’s a basic human need. And yet that need is often created behind closed doors by the management team with little involvement from the people who are supposed to live it.

Discussing as a team the purpose, vision & values creates certainty, gives people a sense of control and makes everyone feel valued and understood. Get this right, ensure everyone feels heard, and you instantly address some of the critical social concerns that drive the brain’s threat response and unhelpful human behaviour.

Phase 2: Create a new set of standards by identifying your non-negotiable behaviours

Phase 2 establishes the behaviours and their specific actions that make people feel like they belong. It is an essential step in creating a shared identity. Behaviour and actions create a culture and atmosphere where people feel valued, respected and trusted.

Phase 2 is the motivation behind phase 1. Ignore this step, and there is nothing demonstrable and specific for people to hold on to. Agreeing on particular behaviours directly relatable to the mission, vision and values that are reinforced by reporting structures need to be accepted by everyone.
High performing cultures can articulate the motivational behaviours and specific day to day actions that make them want to come to work. They know what they look like, feel like and sound like in action. By doing this, the values are brought alive, and the culture has tangibles that hold people accountable.

Stopping at phase 1 leaves yawning gaps.

  1. There is no proper translation into practical and visible actions, that can be rewarded or challenged, accepted or not. 
  2. Reporting structures, management and operational processes, and measurement procedures that are needed to support and reward positive behaviour and reprimand the negative ones are sub-optimal. And open to interpretation.

Stop after phase 2 and the structures and processes that initially reinforce or condition a desire for change rarely deliver any noticeable results. The real bottleneck to growth isn’t systems and policy but the very human challenges of regulating emotion, mindset and relationships.

It’s why continuing to phase 3 is vital.

Phase 3: Mental, emotional and social skills that drive new thinking and behaviours

Phase 2 creates a set of standards-based not on technical skills and results but based on character and people. Maintaining these standards requires mental, emotional and social strength. To maximise this strength and turn potential into performance, your people will need a new set of skills. You will need to close this gap if you want a culture based on people. Because like any other organisational outcome, they need the skills to make it happen.

Performance-based cultures consider the mental and emotional strength within people as a skillset that needs to be trained. By providing training mainly in technical skills and relying on these technically sufficient people to deliver results means most cultures fail to translate their potential into performance. When you enable your people with mental, emotional and social skills, it serves as a differentiator. It gives you a competitive advantage that is currently underutilised by many. These skills not only help lead your people through change but also facilitate a difference in their mindset and deliver higher levels of performance and wellbeing. 

Without skills for change, your culture will remain stagnant. With the right skills, you remove the barriers to change, challenge, increased performance and accelerated wellbeing.

Phase 4: Maintain everything you've created by reinforcing and role modelling the desired behaviours

Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither will your culture. The effort, time and resource investment in phase 3 will deliver noticeable sustained results. To ensure these results compound over time, Phase 4 is designed to support and encourage those with influence to adapt and role model the changes.

360 reports, team and 1:1 coaching increase the saturation of the desired behaviours. The end goal is to have the desired behaviours consistently demonstrated throughout the organisation. Leaders are targeted to ensure that people at the top are in line with the new ways of working and role modelling the desired behaviours and skills; they must “walk the talk.”

Final thoughts from someone who has operated in a culture that sustains high performance

Start to think of your culture as an environment that nurtures and develops high performance. This higher level of wellbeing and performance revolves around your people. Your people and their culture are your competitive advantage. To change potential into performance, ride the wave of uncertainty and maintain or increase engagement, productivity, and growth, you need to be proactive with your culture. It requires design.

The strength of your organisation is rooted in your employees. Their behaviours and habits determine the quality of the experience for everybody, including your clients. It’s those behaviours and mindsets that either create a great culture or could equally be responsible for creating a toxic one. Ignore your people, and your culture will suffer.

Skipping any of the phases leaves your people short.

After 4 phases, your culture will have a shared language, terminology and a skill set which creates consistency and accountability. Skills and language enable individuals and teams to self-regulate, check their thinking and behaviour to maintain focus and perspective. They remove vulnerability and allow your teams to hold each other accountable for their behaviours. Behaviours that have been agreed with the skills to create them and the language to maintain them.

In a world that is changing rapidly, businesses that thrive will be the ones who recognise and harness the power of their culture. One where your teams have enhanced engagement, achieve higher levels of wellbeing and have behaviours that dramatically improve the effectiveness of everyone.

Success often depends on persuading numerous groups and individuals to change the way they work. A transformation people will accept if they have the support and training to think differently about themselves and their jobs.

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