How to build a strong organisational culture – and why you must do it now

- August 9, 2022 3 MIN READ

A strong organisational culture is imperative to attract and retain top talent, however the distributed work environment is having a big impact on “connectedness”, writes Neal Woolrich, Director HR Advisory at Gartner.

As organisations continue to manage the large-scale shifts in the way we work, culture is top of mind for HR and executive leaders. Many are concerned that their organisation’s climate will suffer or change in a virtual-first or hybrid world.

The questions is, how can cultural ideals be maintained when employees don’t consistently work together in one place?

Culture before the COVID-19 pandemic

Before the pandemic, 70 per cent of HR leaders were confident that they knew the culture their organisation needed to drive business performance. Still, only 30 per cent believed that their desired values were evident in their workplace.

In other words, leaders could articulate what they wanted the culture to be (think: company values) but weren’t confident about creating an environment that reflected the desired state.
It’s all well and good to say an organisation values innovation, collaboration and trust. However, you must then ask, “Do we demonstrate innovation, collaboration and trust in how we behave and treat each other?”

The reality is there were problems with organisational culture pre-pandemic, regarding workforce awareness, belief in the culture and ensuring employees behaviours were aligned to the desired culture.

Culture after the move to remote and hybrid work

Despite fears that remote and hybrid work would dilute organisational culture, most employees see the large-scale shift to flexible work as a net positive for the atmosphere of their organisation. Of newly remote and hybrid employees, 76 per cent report a positive perception of the “workplace.”

Similarly, 64 per cent of hybrid and 66 per cent of remote employees say that their organisation’s culture has a positive impact on their job. This is compared to just 52 per cent of on-site employees.

However, this takes work. Organisational culture needs to be strong enough to attract and retain top talent, drive performance and meet business objectives. It’s also important that we understand how the new environments — virtual and home — in which we are spending more time influence how we behave.

And the distributed work environment is having a big impact on “connectedness”. Only one in four employees feel connected to their organisation’s culture.

And only 18 per cent of employees say they work in an environment marked by a high level of fairness or that their experience is characterised by fairness, according to a Gartner study. This type of red flag signals danger ahead for organisations that want to attract and retain talent, reminding us it’s imperative to hardwire equity into our behaviours moving forward.

How to create a culture that drives business success

The new normal of virtual and hybrid work needs to be reflected in the workplace environment, and sixty-eight per cent of executive teams are evaluating how to make this happen. To do this, you must consider what your business strategy is and identify the two or three things you need to drive success.

There isn’t a single right or wrong culture, but there are things that leaders must demand so far as how their teams work together that will drive business success.

The trick to operationalising culture is making employees feel connected to it, whether they are dispersed or assembled. Some leaders may believe that the physical workplace is the key driver of future connectedness. The environment isn’t the driver of culture, though; how we behave is.

We do, however, need to deliberately activate a strong organisational culture. We can’t just tell people to behave in a certain way. For example, using only tangible artefacts — like posting your values on a wall — doesn’t work. We need to progress to the “how” of translating culture into what people do every day.

The organisations that get this right will understand the new drivers of culture and how this is operationalised in the environments in which we now spend more time. They will embed organisational ethos into the new way of working to help employees understand, believe in and live it in a hybrid or remote environment.

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