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Culture: A term overused or a tool to drive organisational performance?

Culture: A term overused or a tool to drive organisational performance?

Culture has been a term that has been widely (sometimes overly) used in today’s context. As a university student who has spent a significant amount of time looking out for potential organizations to apply for together with my peers, the word culture has often surfaced in our conversations. Questions such as “Does the organisation provide a good environment to work and learn?” and “Will the organisation provide me with opportunities as an entry-level employee?” are commonly asked. So what really constitutes the culture of an organization? Having read Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi’s Harvard Business Review article How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation, I thought that I would give my take on culture from a graduating student’s perspective.

1. How culture drives performance?

The first important thing to understand is how culture has the ability to drive performance in the company. When companies decide on the type of culture it wants to have within, I feel that it should not overlook the effects that this culture could have on its performance. Motivating factors have the ability to drive employees forward in carrying out their work optimally and culture is one such factor that could play a huge role in it.

For me, an ideal culture is about providing employees with a consistently positive environment that they are able to thrive in. It is not only just about providing an environment with great welfare that would be raved about, but an environment where employees would be able to grow holistically. In this ideal environment, there would be different opportunities to develop myself and to test out my capabilities as a leader. As an aspiring HR professional, this ideal culture of mine would also be one that pushes the limits of providing for the needs of employees in order to gain better results and performance through relevant, and innovative initiatives that adapt with the times.

Organisations need to spend time understanding what their employees really want and to understand what motivates them at work. Besides this, it would be imperative for organisations to balance these needs with the value that it brings to the organization in the long term. New intiatives may mean more costs for the organization, but it may lead to long term benefits that outweigh the short-term costs that have to be incurred. With proper thought going into it, this culture could serve as a competitive advantage for the company to attract the best talent out there.

2. What is Culture Worth? 

Besides understanding the different ways in which culture can help to motivate employees, understanding the significant impact that it has on performance also helps organizations and its leaders build a business case for it. This can be done by carrying out employee satisfaction surveys that help to measure organizational health. Lindsay and Neel in their article provides a quantifiable means to measure culture by calculating an organisation’s Total Motivation (ToMo) score.

In the ASEAN context, culture is largely measured based on intuition. However, there might be merits for organisations to measure this quantitatively. One such merit is the basis that it gives organisations to compare their progress year-on-year. Organisations might engage consultants to do this for them through different profiling methods or through organizational health surveys. However, I believe an organization should also analyse its need to pay for such a service and the value that it would get out from it. More importantly, organisations should see if the results gathered are able to lead them to craft and provide actionable solutions going forward.

Context is also king. Organisations should never forget the context and environment in which their solutions are being crafted for and to always keep in mind the demographics of employees when making decisions. There is never a one size fit all solution and organisations should tailor solutions as best as it can to meet the needs of their own employees. Only then, will their solutions reap its reward and help drive the organisation forward.

3. What processes in an organization affects culture?

As Lindsay and Neel mentioned, culture is a set of processes in an organization that affects the total motivation of its people. Identifying the need for a good culture is the first step forward, but it will be important for organisations to have processes that help drive this culture through the organization. From my personal interactions and experiences, organisational cultures that have stood out have trails of its culture being weaved throughout the different processes in the organization. These are the organisations that not only live and breathe its culture, but also have core values that are consistently preached through its initiatives and messages from its leadership team.

It is hard work for organisations to ingrain a particular culture with its employees and is a process that will take time. However, when done well, this culture will be one that employees can be proud of. This is when employees become advocates for your organisation’s culture. As a student that has attended many networking events and campus presentations, having employees that consistently advocate the organisation’s culture through their personal experiences have left the deepest impression on me. More often than not, it is usually observable when an employee feels excited about their time in the organization. These experiences may not be filled entirely with rosy pictures about the organization but more importantly, these are experiences that are appreciated by the employees and have added value to their careers.

My Two Cents Worth

It is apparent that a great culture is not easy to build and is something that takes a good amount of time to perfect. For organisations to be successful in driving cultures that make a difference, one thing is clear – Leadership commitment is of utmost importance. Besides having the leadership team to be involved in creating a culture that would fit the business environment, they would also need to be proactive in driving the message across the entire organization and to ensure that team leads identify with and practice whatever is being preached. When employees truly immerse themselves in the culture of an organization and start practicing it through their work, this great culture can be a powerful competitive advantage that the organization can leverage on to bring it to greater heights.

Ideas in this article have been adapted from Lindsay McGregor’s and Neel Doshi’s HBR article on How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation.

Read the full article here.

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