On Sept 11th 2015, I hoped for an honest discussion about why some organisations appear to have a cultural advantage over their peers. The right corporate culture provides an edge in several areas of organisational performance such as innovation, employee engagement and digital adoption. I got an honest conversation when I interviewed Enda Logan, CEO of The Fifth Business and Visiting Professor at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. The interview forms one of four case studies in my book, The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisations (Rethink Press, 2016), launched on Feb 16th 2016. I based the book on real life case studies from multinational firms, It is especially relevant to corporate culture.
As part of Enda’s interview with me, he emphasises that change always starts at the top. This is true for all lkinds of change initiatives. These include the use of social media for business and regulatory changes in addition to other strategic initiatives. I couldn’t agree more. Culture eats strategy for breakfast any day. A 2014 Forbes article even concludes that your company culture is every bit as important as your pay cheque.
Here are 7 ways to ensure your corporate culture allows for sustainable change:
1. Cross-functional ownership
An organisational culture that supports effective change does not allow its business consequences and power to reside in one department. This can make it difficult to change quickly. Instead, smart corporate cultures ensure shared ownership across the organisation. They do this through aligned goals and cross-functional leadership.
2. Continuous improvement
Spend time reflecting on what’s working and what’s not, by observing and sharing lessons learnt and through tools such as root cause analysis. Identifying success and failure causes is not enough. When companies discover the causes, they must implement plans to replicate what is working. Then eradicate what is not working.
3. Honest feedback
Enda’s story of a man he once met with the job title, Corporate Jester fascinated me. This man’s job was to sit in his employer’s board meetings and say the unsay-able. He got paid to challenge ideas from senior executives. This was clearly an enlightened board that actively sought honest feedback. They consider different views to encourage a questioning mentality – starting at the very top.
4. Employee engagement
A corporate culture must enable employees to challenge and share ideas without fear of being penalised or fired. Engaging employees requires them to believe in your purpose and to share their knowledge, knowledge that they regard as power. If your employees don’t feel trusted and empowered by the organisation, you need to revive your company’s culture quickly.
5. Lead by example
It’s not lip-service. It is also not a matter of sending memos to announce new initiatives in the organisation. Senior leaders should be the first seen to live the values they want their employees to adopt. The traditional model of top-down is dead. Such models consisted of a manager telling his staff what to do and think without much responsibility for acting out those desired behaviours himself. It is crucial that change begins at the top to ensure lasting results.
6. Employee empowerment
The future of work is that employees will spend more and more time on social media, using their networks to share knowledge with colleagues, customers and stakeholders. Shama Hyder, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing notes in a recent Forbes article, “People are now media… how organisations leverage people as media in a smart way is here to stay.”
Companies can leverage the power derived from having their employees share content online that is beneficial to the business. As a result, companies could increase brand awareness, effective recruiting, more sales leads and enhanced customer engagement.
7. Future-proof strategies
Finally, a smart corporate culture allows change to occur repeatedly and rapidly to survive the marketplace. There is a delicate balance between sustainable change and being agile enough to change again. Companies must become good storytellers, internally and externally to ensure that people are aware of the good things happening as a result of the changes. At the same time, operational processes should help to monitor the progress of change and flag when things need to be reviewed, and changed again.
In conclusion, these seven tips can help companies develop an engaging corporate culture to support lasting change whether you are introducing social media, a new e-learning system or an HSE policy.