Cultivating a Thriving Organisational Culture: Actionable Insights from Business Culture Connected, Part III

In this third instalment of our exploration into cultivating a thriving organisational culture we provide more lessons from the award-winning practitioners and global thought leaders who spoke at Business Culture Connected. Building on the practical suggestions outlined in Parts I and II we now add more actionable strategies that are not only enhancing working lives but making a significant impact in today’s business world.

1. A clear vision and purpose are essential for aligning teams

Purpose and vision play a pivotal role in driving organisational culture and performance, agreed Niall Cluley, managing director at Dragonfish, and Sally Webster, director of talent & culture at The Savoy. Cluley highlighted that purpose is fundamentally about ‘why’ an organisation exists, shaped by customer needs and organisational strengths, while vision is about the destination and ambition. Sharing her experiences at The Savoy, Webster demonstrated how a clear vision and purpose can not only align but also energise a team, especially during challenging times like the pandemic, when the luxury hotel had to restructure and focus on multi-skilled roles.

● Involve the leadership team in creating a vision statement to ensure it resonates with everyone
● Use diverse methods like diagnostic surveys, SWOT analysis and creative visualisation exercises to engage team members in the vision-building process
● Align organisational actions and intentions with the purpose and vision for authenticity
● Recognise and celebrate employee achievements to build a positive culture
● Emphasise adaptability and resilience, using the purpose statement as a guiding principle during restructuring or crises.

2. Build an environment which balances positivity with accountability

Claire Eldridge, CEO of healthcare company Aurora, and Phil Lewis, founder of Corporate Punk, shared their journey of transforming organisational culture from being merely ‘comfortable’ and a ‘nice place to work’ to one that is impactful and performance-driven. Eldridge discussed the necessity of shifting towards a culture where creative brilliance and commercial performance are mutually reinforcing, highlighting the balance between a positive work environment and high performance. Lewis emphasised the importance of honest conversations and effective conflict management in this cultural shift, illustrating the value of direct and constructive communication in fostering a culture of impact and accountability.

● Focus on senior management first, as leadership plays a crucial role in shaping organisational culture. Ensure leaders are aligned with and actively participate in cultural changes
● Improve conflict management and encourage honest and uncomfortable conversations to address issues constructively
● Use data-driven approaches for targeted cultural interventions. For example, Corporate Punk’s Change Index measures both change readiness in organisations and the cultural attributes that inform that change readiness
● Maintain a curiosity-driven approach for continuous cultural improvement

3. Consider implementing value-driven volunteerism

Sunil Balakrishnan, chief values officer at digital transformation solutions company UST, brought to light the concept of value-driven volunteerism, or ‘value-enteerism’, where volunteer activities align with the company’s core values and mission. He stressed the importance of identifying people who exhibit organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB) within the workforce, including altruism, conscientiousness, courtesy and sportsmanship. These behaviours indicate employees’ willingness to go beyond their job descriptions for the greater good, which is a foundation for successful volunteerism. Balakrishnan underscored how integrating volunteerism with organisational values not only enhances community engagement but also reinforces the company’s ethos and purpose among employees.

● Foster organisational citizenship behaviour by encouraging behaviours like altruism and conscientiousness
● Form employee resource groups (ERGs) to enhance volunteerism. These groups should be flexible, self-managed and driven by a shared purpose rather than just common backgrounds or interests
● Adopt a servant leadership model, focusing on serving teams to enable them to be successful. Balakrishnan uses the concept of the ‘freedom ladder’ where teams are given autonomy and freedom, essential for volunteer initiatives
● Manage business, culture and rewards trade-offs. This includes balancing business and non-business focus, adapting global frameworks to local cultures, balancing group and individual rewards and catering to diverse interests within volunteer efforts.

4. Integrate diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the business and Inclusion in the workplace

A panel discussion on diversity and inclusion (D&I), featuring insights from ISS A/S’s Kat Parsons, DFDS’s Fran Williams, Wunderman Thompson’s Sufia Sheikh-Hussain, Mitie’s Sim Sian and the Civil Service Fast Stream’s Philip Wilson, highlighted the critical importance of embedding diversity and inclusion into every facet of business operations. Parsons pointed out that this includes recruitment, onboarding, career progression and even exit strategies.

● Weave D&I into all business aspects to ensure it is an integral part of the organisational fabric and not just an add-on
● Identify and address challenges like overcoming industry norms (such as male-dominated sectors) and communication barriers with frontline employees right from the start
● Implement initiatives like gamified learning, leveraging internships and enhanced diversity networks to make people really understand and live and breathe D&I
● Focus on psychological safety and belonging so employees feel safe to express themselves. This involves addressing the deeper aspects of D&I beyond surface-level initiatives
● Shift from equality to equity, recognising individual needs for different opportunities. Move towards redefining diversity beyond protected characteristics to include regional, skills and social mobility.

5. Think about employee lifecycle and departmental needs when developing new working practices 

The changing nature of work environments and practices is influencing company culture and employee engagement. Personio’s Jihan Ahmed, Spirit Health’s Kerry Taylor-Smith, Peldon Rose’s Sophie Grant and SOCOTEC’s Lisa Massey Ahmed highlighted the shift towards hybrid models post-COVID, emphasising the need for flexibility and adaptability to accommodate diverse departmental and individual needs.

● Consider offering hybrid models that accommodate the varying needs of different departments and individuals. For example, sales teams might require an office-led approach, while other departments can function effectively in a fully remote setup. Policies need to accommodate these differences
● When going hybrid or remote-first maintain employee engagement through social events, community clubs and effective work tools
● Communicate clearly the motivations behind any change to work practices and clearly explain the tools available for adaptation
● Understand and address generational differences and career stage preferences in work arrangements. The panellists agreed that career stage might be a more significant factor than age in determining work preferences.
● Get regular feedback from employees. This is crucial in shaping work policies that are aligned with their needs and preferences
● Ensure workplace equity by meeting the diverse needs of different roles. Focus on inclusion first, as an inclusive environment acknowledges and accommodates the varied needs and preferences of all employees.

Read Part I: Empowering Management; Mastering Communication; and Getting the “Sharons” in Your Camp if you Want to Embed Culture.

Read Part II: Enhance employee listening; View sustainability and CSR as new cultural cornerstones; Put culture at the front of hybrid and return-to-office strategies; Create talent advocates among all workers, not just permanent ones

Register to attend  Business Culture Connected on 9th May 2024 – Delivering Productivity and Performance