I have seen many businesses doing a fantastic job over the past couple of years, coping with the ever-changing working landscape that the pandemic has thrown at us – after all, we said goodbye to ‘normal’ in 2020.
Others sadly haven’t fared so well, and even those who seemingly thrived have commented that working from home has had a tremendous impact on organisational ‘culture’. But what does this really mean?
The definition of culture can sometimes be lofty and ethereal – often little more than a lazy description of social experiences. It is also a common assumption that cultural activity and understanding just happens, without definition, maintenance or TLC.
When considering the role of culture in processes, I find it helpful to think about it in relationship terms – both within internal teams and with external stakeholders. Things may have been fractious at times – not least when we’ve all craved the ability to be in the same room as one another, so recognising that these relationships are crucial to an organisation’s success, and taking steps to strengthen them, is key to culture having a positive, strategic, and sustainable impact on businesses, moving forward.
Understanding relationships inside out
In making efforts to enhance (and if necessary, rebuild) relationships into 2022 and beyond, I’d recommend starting with colleagues and what unites them. After all, colleagues are the people organisations truly rely on to develop deep and successful external relationships with clients. So, if employees can’t embody – or at least align with – a common purpose, how can they work towards achieving it in the ‘outside world’?
The goal should be to work towards a shared understanding of why the organisation exists and the part that everyone plays.
Defining values that shape behaviours
This process – of communicating a deeply embedded purpose that intrinsically underpins culture – doesn’t need to be difficult, but it is unlikely to just happen.
- Firstly, values need to be defined – ideally with some degree of collective input to fuel buy-in. If we all believe in what we’re here to do and why, the journey will feel so much easier.
- There should then hopefully be a framework to help values become ‘sticky’ or habitual behaviours – part of the organisation’s DNA. If processes and systems can be created to help us demonstrate these behaviours, this will only generate more ease in our working lives.
- Think about evaluation too. If you truly care about X, Y, and Z then measure X, Y and Z – this reinforces how integral these behaviours are to the business and encourages ongoing conversation about why they’re important.
A great way to put some of this thinking into practice is via the formulation of job descriptions, KPIs, and personal development plans – commonly used tools that all have the potential to centre upon values and behaviours.
So, in following the three steps outlined above, this would involve:
- Clearly articulating the organisation’s purpose and values to all, and ensuring they are reflected in every piece of employee communication, from the initial job vacancy and during each colleague’s induction.
- Discussing how these behaviours can show up in an individual’s job role, and working collaboratively to deliver training or tweak systems, so that processes can better support employees’ performance on an ongoing basis.
- Agreeing behaviour-related targets or objectives – ideally with measurable outcomes. This forms a constructive basis from which to review success, progress, and next-step development requirements.
Of course, three easy steps make this sound extremely straightforward, whereas in truth the implementation of this process naturally takes time and effort. But my advice would always be to keep things simple and memorable – after all, too much of our working lives feels hard, frustrating, or inefficient and the workplace will only continue to evolve, at pace.
The easier we can make things, the more room we have for creativity, agility, and care. So, amidst so much change and uncertainty, let’s strive to create some positive constants.
Lorraine Tovey-Artis is a strategic business growth consultant with a people-centred approach to transformative change. She who works with organisations to define and embed their vision, purpose, and culture, in order to achieve sustainable success, operational excellence, and ongoing performance improvement.