Building the Business Case for Culture

28.03.18

It is often said that Brand and Culture are two sides of the same coin and coexist as one. The brand makes the customer promise and sets the bar on the projected personality and expectation of the emotional connection. On the other side of this coin sits the culture and the real-time delivery and support of this customer experience, trust and loyalty. Hence, if these two entities require the balance of the other to remain healthy and prosperous in the marketplace then why do so many organisations still refrain from investing at an equal level between the brand that wins the business and the culture that both wins and maintains.

Calling For Conversation

A company culture is a living breathing entity all on its own and in this life force, it requires key elements to be at its best. It is more unpredictable but clearly stated it requires constant emotional nourishment, structure and a visionary purpose for existing – to name a few.

It is not a scientific formula that always behaves as it did in the past or a replication equation that can be mastered and left on a shelf to never change. Businesses behave like humans because they are driven by humans and therefore are always in a constant state of flux, shaping and changing with the tides of time. It – as with people, is always at risk of harm and behaves irrationally when felt to be under threat. To flourish it must be supported by a connected community that lives with equality and passion. Individuals driving the culture must add value to the greater good and be given opportunities to execute this power.

I believe that it is time that we take a more serious look at businesses and change, the lens that many put on culture. Every brand and company culture is different, just as every human on the planet is unique and hence investment will fluctuate based on many circumstances. The secret sits within the DNA that both the Brand and Culture share and how the behaviour of one can have a dramatic impact on the performance of the other. Just with this information alone, it makes sense that a supported and connected culture is more likely to offer a higher degree of allegiance and protection to the brand it is part of.

The key sits in developing a visible and active employee campaign that celebrates the culture through various mediums and is unique to them. Yes, there will be a great deal of commonality that can be applied to all businesses in terms of structure and engagement techniques of staff. However, to truly stand out and have an internal community that is self-driving and healthy then it must be openly supported by the senior leadership team. They must be more active and present in bringing the brand to life through the culture. They must be seen to be investing both time and money in ensuring that the community has opportunities to succeed outside the daily tasks of their role.

This does not mean paying lip service to its development and ticking the box on engagement as if it was just another matrix or spreadsheet that can calculate return on investment in a given quarter. While many people feel the benefits of having a healthy culture, it can be hard to translate those feelings into a language that an executive team understands or can quantify in the monthly reports. In order to make a compelling case to invest in a company culture, we have to move culture from the realm of “fluffy people stuff” to the land of long-term investment and business strategy. However, we really must start taking the data more seriously as it will show the connection to the ROI of the business if proactive in its collection.

The Future of Investment in Culture

In building the business case for culture we have to be prepared to be more innovative and challenge the status quo. With these early days of discovery, we need to take risks and with each opportunity invest additional support to gather the real-time insights into the challenges and positive outcomes of the transformation. This Intel will be invaluable when building a future case for culture, as it will need higher-level support.   Many organisations have made some incredible inroads into putting culture as the top priority in business performance however, I still see the continuation of the ideal that the business requires only structure to maintain order, whether that is departments, hierarchy, process or policies. This stuff just keeps it moving day-to-day, month-by-month and if done well, profitable.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the value that this structure brings to a business and its place in maintaining order. But let’s also be real and see the darker power that can come from too much structure as it creates divides, complications for those without full access to information and a place for non-effective leaders to hide. As long as key individuals are only focusing on structure and its tangible and measured outcomes, the investment in the perceived risky success of ›4›‘culture stuff’ is left to the side. More and more data is coming to the forefront to show that investing in building a great culture means that you can also flip the coin on some of the structure and the team becomes empowered and self-governing.

Putting in place a culture plan that brings people together with an opportunity to be recognised, sharing key information openly, honest emotions, vision, and being seen and listened to as valued citizens just makes sense. The big question that needs to be addressed is how to measure this and best convince those within the senior team that it has true value and offers long-term strategic growth prospects to the business. Culture is often dismissed as a “soft” topic that doesn’t offer a tangible business impact. Luckily, research studies and internal data is making it easier to start telling a compelling, data-driven story that will inspire executives to invest in their employees and company’s culture more.

Companies with satisfied employees have a higher percentage of satisfied customers, contributing to higher gross margins, higher repeat business, and reduced acquisition costs! Gallup’s periodic meta-analyses of employee satisfaction studies consistently find that: Business units with more satisfied employees tend to have higher productivity and profitability and lower incidents of safety violations and shrinkage. We now know the impact it can have but we also have to detail the innovative way that this culture will best respond – making the investment worthwhile.

In my 20 years experience in working with organisations on people solutions, I have found a high number of top-level executives that have an overly optimistic view of their own employees’ level of engagement.  In hosting frontline focus groups discussing their daily lives within the business it is clear that this picture is not reality. Hence it is important to build on the antipodal information with some hard data that can be found in various sources. In building your case for more investment in the culture, ensure that you can both paint an accurate picture of the current culture and one of its future.

Gather specific numbers around employee engagement and satisfaction through surveys but also delve deeper into things like retention metrics, participation in optional employee activities, personal development requests, real-time captured employee feedback, customer experience feedback and glass door reviews. Behind this insight also sits a great deal of information about some of the required solutions that will ignite the culture. It is always important to listen to what the culture finds most valuable in building a stronger more connected community.

One last tip: Keep your findings up-to-date in an easily digestible format and continuously get them in front of your leadership team. Share real employee success stories as part of this data as it also needs to have a face to represent it. If your project is having an impact, you and your executives will want to know about it in real-time. If it is less than expected you have the opportunity to make changes in the ‘now’ as remember there is no guarantee we will always hit the mark the first time out. Culture is a journey that will shift direction during your organisation’s natural lifecycle as your employees and priorities change, hence it requires constant attention and influence.

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