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The benefits of a strategic employee culture

Jacqueline Benjamin | June 6, 2019

Employees holding hands together.

Company culture has been in the news a lot recently – but, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. It seems that hardly a day passes without another tale of company culture gone bad. Another scandal, another leader ousted for enabling or even instilling behaviours that people are no longer willing to tolerate because ‘that’s just how things have always been’.

High profile action such as the #MeToo movement are leading to a seismic shift in the way we expect to be treated in the workplace. This is reflected in PwC’s 2018 Annual Corporate Directors survey, which found that “A company’s poor culture can snowball from bad to scandalous—causing some very big corporate headaches. As a result, many boards have been taking a hard look at the issue and the risks a bad culture can pose.” It highlights that “expectations for corporate directors are rising… directors are stepping up and embracing change listening more, learning more and engaging more”. The fact is, they have to. With record low unemployment and therefore increased competition for talent, employee culture has never been more important or in need of attention.

In the current climate, it’s easy to see that one of the main benefits of getting company culture right is that it mitigates the risk that your business will become the next victim of, at best, unflattering headlines, or at worst, a reputational crisis that could bring the whole company crashing down. And whilst not all of the benefits that company culture offers are this dramatic, they are certainly no less important.

Your employee culture should reflect and embody all that your business is. It should encapsulate its purpose, goals, vision, personality and ethics. Being more mindful of whether the culture that exists is actually effectively representing your company’s values makes it far more likely that its goals and future plans will be achieved. In short, a strong, strategic and proactively instilled employee culture provides you with more control over your business. And one of the best ways to do this is to reinforce certain behaviours by being visible in recognising and rewarding staff for acting in ways that reflect the company values.

Of course, whilst your company culture can and should serve your business objectives, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it should also serve your employees. Afterall, employee culture is the single most influential factor in defining the experience that people have at work. And this means a lot more than just whether there is decent coffee on offer, or if the office has a games room. That’s not to say that these things aren’t important – of course they are. But there is a risk that when reflecting on company culture, the things that spring to mind are the lighter aspects: funky beanbags in breakout spaces or maybe social events such as the odd night out or away day. And this is to massively underestimate the power and importance of company culture, which can address far weightier matters.

Many of the recent scandals relating to toxic company culture are the result of behaviours that reinforce discrimination – misogyny, racism, religious intolerance. By paying attention to your employee culture, you have the opportunity to defend against such behaviours, and ensure that everyone within your workforce is fairly and appropriately recognised. And one of the biggest mistakes that company leaders make is building an employee culture designed in their own image; one which only reflects the cultural and social norms of only the most senior staff.

Returning to the recent PwC research, 87% of the directors it surveyed felt that company culture problems start with the tone set by the executive team; with 79% identifying middle managers and the tone they set as equally problematic. The lesson here is clear – company culture needs to be led from the top, and if the behaviours of those at the top are not in line with the values of the business, there is trouble ahead.

The PwC report highlights that efforts to address institutional problems with business culture are prioritising measures that enable them to listen to their employees. It states: “topping the list of the most useful metrics for evaluating culture are employee engagement survey results, exit interview debriefs and feedback results for executives.” Directors are beginning to understand that if they are to create a healthy, productive employee culture, in needs to be centred on employees’ actual needs – and the best way to establish this is to ask them. It’s an approach that we have long been endorsing when advising how to design genuinely meaningful reward and recognition programmes and employee benefits programmes. Personalisation is one of the most important factors in ensuring that staff feel seen and valued, and one of the most effective ways of instilling loyalty and faith in the organisation.

Company culture may be in the news for all the wrong reasons – but this news does serve to remind us of the work that still needs to be done. And if there is one lesson that we can take from this, it is that your company culture has the power not just to dictate the ultimate success of your business, but to reflect the positive changes we are seeing in society. It provides us with the chance to give voice to people who have previously been silenced, and enable businesses to better reflect the diversity within our society. And it can untap an incredible pool of talent in the process.

Employee recognition can help create a healthy company culture. Download our free e-book to find out more about how to build an effective recognition strategy.

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Topics: Employee Engagement

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