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Creating a cultural temperature test

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Can creating a cultural temperature test enhance culture and business performance? Aga Bajer, culture expert, makes the case for effective culture strategies.

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How can leaders ensure that the culture they’re creating is effective? Creating a cultural temperature test can be the winning formula for cracking this issue. To delve deeper into creating an effective culture and the biggest challenges that follow on from doing so, HRD Connect spoke to culture expert Aga Bajer, Founder & CEO, Culture Strategy Consulting. 

What must business leaders do to create an effective strategy around culture? 

The essential foundations of an effective culture strategy consist of a clear and shared purpose, vision and business strategy. Without clarity on why your team or organisation exists, what dent you want to make in the world and how you plan on doing it, it’s impossible to know what culture will be an effective enabler of your future success. 

As soon as the foundations are in place, the next step is aligning your culture with your purpose, vision and strategy. The alignment process starts with identifying the current, operating cultural “algorithms” and evaluating which of them serve the team’s or organisation’s purpose, vision and strategy and which don’t. 

While the process above might sound relatively straightforward on paper, it can be very challenging to assess the current culture and I would advise working with a professional who has the necessary experience and can provide you with guidance.  

How can companies assess what culture works best for their business? 

One of the most dangerous myths about culture is that you can find a recipe for what people often refer to as “the winning” or “high-performance” culture. Leaders, teams and entire organisations buy into this myth and look for a “winning culture mould” to help them shape a great culture. But when you look close enough, with a decent amount of intellectual rigour, you will realise that…the only thing successful cultures have in common is… success itself.  

So how can you know what culture works best for your business? Look at what’s already there. Explore which of the existing mindsets, beliefs, assumptions, values and behavioural patterns contribute to business success and which are the ones that stand in the way. 

What are the biggest challenges with instilling an effective culture? 

The number one challenge in instilling an effective culture is that it’s virtually impossible to implement the same strategy across the whole organisation. Like all complex systems, organisations and teams are dynamic. The needs of individual departments and teams within them are often unique. Additionally, they shift and evolve with time. 

One of the reasons why many cultural interventions fail is because they try to address the organisation as a whole. However, “one size fits all” does not work when it comes to culture. Your accounting department and your marketing will most probably need to focus on entirely different things to close the gap between the current and desired culture.  

Therefore, an important and frequently overlooked step in drafting an effective culture strategy is identifying the current cultural evolution needs at a group level. 

Here are five distinct needs that emerged from my research and practical experience. Each of them will require a different strategy and approach:

  1. Inception: creating a shared cultural identity – usually when a group comes together or a company is founded
  2. Reinforcement: strengthening the positive aspects of the existing culture
  3. Reorientation: returning to the cultural roots after losing the way
  4. Rehab: detoxing or healing a dysfunctional culture
  5. Evolution: evolving the culture to keep up with external or internal changes

What can businesses do to receive continuous feedback on their culture? What data can companies rely on? 

Many organisations use culture surveys, such as Human Synergistic’s Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) or Denison Organizational Culture Survey (DOCS) and follow their progress by carrying out the survey every year or every two years. Others use different tools, including AI, to analyse large sets of data. It’s also increasingly popular to appoint Cultural Ambassadors who are responsible for facilitating the cultural evolution and who carry out qualitative culture health-checks, following a protocol that includes observation, conversations and team discussions. 

What impact can a positive/negative culture have on a business?

It’s widely accepted that a healthy culture drives business results in a way that nothing else can. Today, we have plenty of evidence that supports that.  

According to the most recent 2019 OC Tanner culture study, when organisations have a thriving culture, employees rate their satisfaction with employee experience 102% higher. 

Moreover, thriving cultures are:

  • 6x more likely to have promoters on the net promoter score
  • 8x more likely to have a high incidence of great work
  • 13x more likely to have highly engaged employees
  • 3x less likely to have layoffs
  • 2x more likely to have a significant increase in revenues
  • 3x less likely to have employees experiencing burn out
  • 7x more likely to have employees innovating 

To mention just one of the consequence of having less than optimal cultures, 79% of employees in those companies are found to suffer from burnout. Companies with moderate-to-severe burnout have a 376% decrease in the odds of having highly engaged employees, 87% decrease in likelihood to stay, 22% decreased work output and 41% decrease in the perception of the employee experience. 

Aga Bager is a culture strategist working with leaders and teams around the globe to help them shape a culture that brings their vision to life.

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