The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) defines organisational culture as an organisation’s “personality and character…made up of shared values, beliefs and assumptions about how people should behave and interact, how decisions should be made and how work activities should be carried out”.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) defines organisational culture as an organisation’s “personality and character…made up of shared values, beliefs and assumptions about how people should behave and interact, how decisions should be made and how work activities should be carried out”.

You’re probably familiar with this definition, but organisational culture is often ignored in smaller businesses because the leaders in those businesses may think it’s a “thing” for big companies.  They think of corporations when you mention culture.  They don’t think it’s something that really needs to be on their agenda.

I think MDs, CEOs and leaders who think that way are missing a trick – or two.  They’re missing a happiness trick and a productivity/profitability trick.  If I were to say to you – “look more closely at this and your people could be happier and more productive as well as making your business more profitable”, your ears would pick up, wouldn’t they?

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I believe that having some understanding of organisational culture is essential for you to be effective in your role.  When it comes to getting your strategy right, you’ve got to have a handle on your culture.  When your strategy aligns with your culture, that’s when the magic happens.  Let me explain…

Here at Inspirent we’ve recently outlined our strategy for 2023 to 2025 based on our purpose of ‘Thriving businesses, thriving lives’.  But without the right culture or purpose behind that strategy, it will fall short.

Strong healthy cultures generate happy colleagues, which improves satisfaction ratings among our customer base.  You can have the most distinct purpose and an all-singing, all-dancing growth strategy, but without a healthy culture flowing from a genuinely interested and caring leadership, your strategy will never be realised as it should.

It’s the everyday principles and behaviours of your leadership that creates the right environment for your people to innovate, to be creative and to work in an adaptive way to meet constantly changing needs of your customers and the changing environment that we’re working in.  Here at Inspirent, we want our purpose to be delivered in a spirit of excellence and we do that by fostering the right culture.

To operate in that way, our team needs to feel the effects of a supportive and principled culture.  That must come from the top and be authentic.  As leaders, do we know what matters to our team?  Do we know what ticks their boxes when they’re outwith the business, and therefore affects their thinking when they come into the business? If we do, we can foster that adaptive culture that supports their needs and ultimately their best performance.

I’ll give you an example.  If a member of your team has caring responsibilities – maybe elderly parents, then a later start in the morning that allows them to meet their caring needs means that they’ll arrive at work having dealt with their responsibilities.  That is what matters to them.  Working this way means they can come in and enjoy being at work, focused and productive, knowing that they’ve taken care of the things that matter to them.

Do you know what really matters to everyone in your team?  The pre-pandemic, as yet unknown Jason Leach explains this concept way better than I can in his Ted talk in 2017, ‘What matters to me?’.  I would recommend it.  It’s worth listening to.

Toxic cultures have been known to destroy even the strongest of businesses, and conversely genuinely principled and caring cultures that are intentionally developed and worked on by managers and senior leadership can be the powerful third prong of that triangle of purpose, strategy, and culture. Rather than describing what toxic culture is (sadly, I think most of us have experienced one), I want to talk about what a healthy culture is.

And so, for example, if as a leader, you’re in the habit of bad-mouthing or talking about your colleagues behind their backs, that’s something that gives permission for others to do the same.  Whereas if you work hard to make everybody in your team as successful as they can be, by adapting and drawing out their skills and their special attributes, then others will do the same.

If you show mutual respect and recognition – by giving instant praise when people do exceptionally well, going above and beyond, then others will do the same.  And that makes others feel valued, it makes your people feel valued, it makes them feel respected, and it creates a culture where people know that when they walk out the door, they’re not going to be slated, and they’re not going to be talked about.  They know they’re valued for who they are and the individual skills that they bring to the table.

They also see that it’s synergy that makes success.  It’s all the different characters coming together with their individual skills and attributes, to amount to a sum greater than their parts, that make the success.

I was involved in running a production company a number of years ago and we had a guy who had a very specific skill – let’s call him Joe.  Joe was the only person in the business that had that skill.  He was responsible for operating an extremely dangerous machine.  Joe operated in second gear.  But that was absolutely fine, given the machine he operated, we needed him to be working in second gear, not in 3rd or 4th gear and everybody accepted that Joe worked at that level because that’s what that part of the business needed.

I couldn’t have had Joe at the front end of the business because that would have slowed down production to a point that was detrimental.  But to accept Joe as he was, delivering his essential service as he did, was crucial to the success of our business. But also accepting Joe as part of our overall culture and seeing him as a dignified and valued member of the team was critical too.  So, being a good leader is about being adaptive, being principled and genuinely caring.  And that’s the culture that we work hard to develop here at Inspirent.

So, what might you take away from today’s Reflection?  For me, the first thing is to avoid thinking of organisational culture as something only corporations need to be concerned about.  The second is simplifying the whole idea of culture so you can embrace it and get it firmly in your day-to-day behaviours.  Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Hand on heart, is your environment/culture conducive to creativity, innovation and the desire to adapt?
  2. Are you fully supporting and respecting every member of your team in a way you would want to be supported and respected if you were in their shoes?
  3. How intimately do you “get” what really matters to everyone in your team, and are you doing all you can to make their work/life balance as good as it can be?

If the answer is YES to all three – go find a trusted colleague to give you a huge pat on the back.  If you’re not so sure, let the idea mull over in your head and see what solutions you come up with.

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