How to Build a Strong Organizational Culture — And Why You Must Do It Now

June 29, 2022

Contributor: Jordan Turner and Mary Baker

Be intentional, and don’t leave your culture to chance, whether your employees are physically co-located or not.

In short:

  • Many leaders are concerned that organizational culture is at risk as the way we work continues to evolve.

  • But, in reality, we were challenged even before hybrid work to help employees operate in ways that aligned to the desired culture.

  • Today, leaders must ensure employees know how to embody the desired culture in their individual work context and behavior, irrespective of their geographic location.

As organizations 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 organization’s culture will suffer or change in a virtual-first or hybrid world, and are not sure how to maintain cultural ideals when employees don’t consistently work together in one place.

Download now: A 12-Month Roadmap to Evolve Culture & Leadership in a Hybrid Workplace

“With employees working in distributed environments more often, executive leaders worry their organization’s culture will become fragmented and weaker, leading to lower levels of engagement, performance and innovation,” says Elisabeth Joyce, Managing Vice President at Gartner.

Culture before the COVID-19 pandemic

Before the pandemic, 70% of HR leaders were confident that they knew the culture their organization needed to drive business performance. Still, only 30% were confident that their desired culture was evident in their actual culture. 

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 good and well to say an organization values innovation, collaboration and trust, for example, but then you must ask, “Do we demonstrate innovation, collaboration and trust in how we behave and treat each other?” 

The reality is there were problems with organizational culture pre-pandemic — in terms of workforce awareness, belief in the culture and ensuring employees were consistently behaving in ways aligned to the desired culture. 

Culture after the move to remote and hybrid work

Despite fears that remote and hybrid work would dilute organizational culture, most employees see the large-scale shift to flexible work as a net-positive for the culture of their organization. In fact, 76% of newly remote and hybrid employees report a positive perception of the “workplace.” 

Similarly, 64% of hybrid and 66% of remote employees say that their organization’s culture has a positive impact on their job — compared to just 52% of on-site employees.

However, this takes work. Organizational 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.

Only 18% of employees say they work in an environment marked by a high level of fairness or that their experience is characterized by fairness. This type of red flag signals danger ahead for organizations that want to attract and retain talent and remind us that it is imperative to hardwire equity into our behaviors moving forward.

Listen now: Organizational Culture and Connectedness Is in Crisis

How to create a culture that drives business success 

Sixty-eight percent of executive teams are reevaluating their company’s culture to reflect the new normal of virtual and hybrid work. 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 operationalizing culture is making employees feel connected to it whether they are distributed or colocated. Some leaders may believe that the physical workplace is the key driver of future culture connectedness, but the environment isn’t the driver of culture; the ways in which we behave and work together are. 

We do, however, need to deliberately activate culture; we can’t just tell people to behave in a certain way. For example, using only tangible artifacts — 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 organizations that get this right will understand the new drivers of culture and how culture is operationalized in the environments in which we now spend more time. They will embed culture into the new way of working to help employees understand, believe in and live the desired culture in a hybrid or remote environment.

 

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