Graham Birkenhead, November 8 2022

Culture - Where do I Start?

Most CEOs and company executives in North America now recognise that improving their corporate culture would have a very positive impact on their business' performance. They recognise that culture is up there with strategy, marketing, brand, finance, and IP in terms of importance. And most also admit that their culture is not where it needs to be, and a major part of the reason for that is that their executive team does not give it sufficient priority or attention. 

So, if company execs recognise the importance of culture, why don't they give it more priority and invest more time in it?  Part of the answer is simply that they don't know where to start.  Culture is all pervasive, but it is difficult to measure directly, and seemingly impossible to control; and in a business world where we like to manage through measurement and control - that makes culture a slippery subject for most management teams. It becomes a problem for another day. 

But there are things you can do right now that will have a significantly positive impact on your culture.  We know that companies with strong culture perform better in almost all respects, they attract and retain good people, and they are more resilient in times of challenge. So, below are 3 areas to think about, and act upon, that will positively impact your culture.  Even if you make only slight changes, they will move your company in the right direction. 

Culture is experienced by your staff, and what they experience affects their performance individually and collectively. A recent study by MIT Sloan Management School identified several cultural areas that most significantly affect employee performance. Here, they are grouped into 3 distinct areas in order of impact. 

1 - Respect.   First and by a VERY significant margin, the foremost important element in a positive culture is RESPECT. Do your staff feel respected? Do they feel recognised for their value to the organisation - or are they mere cogs?  Do they feel they are treated as people, or resources? Do they feel they are treated with courtesy and dignity? Do they feel that their opinions, concerns and ideas are listened to? How do you know what they are feeling? 

2 - Leadership.   Here we are talking all levels of management who have responsibility for other people; however, the more senior the person in the organisation, the more significant the effect.  There are 2 elements to leadership:

3 - Compensation and Benefits.   While important, this is less so than the previous 2, but compensation ("increase their salaries") is often where management teams put their effort to help retain people. While salary is important to a point, it is other elements that show and demonstrate care and personal support that win out: 

 Don’t delegate this to HR – it is not their role. Everyone in your management team - beginning with you - can start to make small tweaks in all of these areas. You don't need to change everything at once. You don't need to make big changes. You don't need to spend a lot of money. Just lead by good example. A simple small felt change can have a big effect. Start right now - Just Do It. If you want to know more about culture, visit our 'What is Culture' resource page. We also can help you with a cultural assessment if you want to know where you stand. And, please do give me a call or send me an e-mail if you just want a quick chat about your culture or ideas on where to start.

See you out there


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Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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