Do you want competitive advantage?

CIPD research, just published, shows “that for businesses to gain competitive advantage and succeed over the long term, a culture must exist which drives performance and employee well being, and engages the workforce to share its expertise in their roles”.

Whether it is Sports Direct, BHS, Barclays Bank, or the Police, all organisations have a “culture”. If you are the owner or M.D. of a business then you undoubtedly set that culture. If you are a key worker or senior manager you not only influence that culture but have a vital role in putting it into practice.

The CIPD Research Report, on organisational culture is a must-read for any business owner, leader or managing director.

Understanding the culture in your organisation is, nevertheless, a challenge, especially if you are at its head, since feedback is invariably “filtered”, meaning the leader is frequently told what they want to hear.

The breadth of “culture”

Sometimes described as “the way we do things around here”, culture pervades all aspects of organisational life from recruitment, induction, reward, performance management, access to training and development, through to how you handle poor performance or attendance, even how employees talk about working for you and the type of words employees use from day-to-day – all form part of your culture.

Defining a culture

As the research report acknowledges “organisation culture is one of the hardest attributes to articulate and measure”. We suggest a number of indicators here:

  1. How open are you with your employees about, say, how the organisation is performing?
  2. Is it an “assign blame” or “avoid repetition” (no blame) approach to failure?
  3. How much initiative can employees exercise?
  4. Is your organisation in a highly regulated sector?
  5. How are ethics , honesty and integrity viewed?
  6. Is it fun to work for you?
  7. How committed and engaged are your employees, do they go the extra mile?
  8. Do you develop and train your employees?
  9. Are there positive attitudes towards diverse groups: race, age, disability, etc?
  10. What are the principal drivers in your business: altruism, sales, finance, excitement, public or community service?

There is more detail in our book, Human Resource Practice.

Call to action!

  1. Discover the true culture in your organisation. An externally managed staff survey would be our recommendation.
  2. Decide what culture you really want. Presumably this won’t be the Sports Direct approach, but it needn’t be a John Lewis Partnership one either.
  3. Test out your intentions with an HR or Business consultant.
  4. Test out your intentions with your senior management team.
  5. Define the critical aspects of your intended culture, perhaps with reference to the indicators above.
  6. Communicate your intentions with your employees, taking feedback as appropriate. Living the values you want to promulgate is an important part of rolling out those values down the line.
  7. Finally, seek to infuse your preferred culture into everything you think and your organisation does across the breadth described above. Key workers and senior managers have a crucial role here.

The CIPD research attributes a quote to a top management guru, the late Peter Drucker, where “culture could eat strategy for breakfast”. Culture is central to business success.

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