Culture shock – why we need to be more intentional when communicating organisational culture

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I’ve been writing and speaking a lot recently about culture and the return to the office. It’s becoming the topic for everyone in business as we navigate the changes in the workplace due to the COVID19 pandemic.

For many, the conversation is around hybrid working, but you’ll know from my earlier blogs that I believe this focus is a red herring and that we are actually well positioned to step forward into the pandemic revolution.

I’m a big fan of asking my community what they think about things and recently I asked my LinkedIn community how they would define the word culture. There were so many suggestions I collated them into a PDF you can download here.

In my book I refer to it as “the way things get done around here” and this seems to be a fairly common description on the LinkedIn poll.

There are a few that I’d like to highlight here too:

Chris Dyer: “The combination of the easily seen ideals like vision statements and values, combined with the harder to see norms, behaviours, languages, beliefs and systems.”

Shein: “A pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration.”

Flamholtz and Randle: “Corporate personality.”

Deal and Kennedy: “It’s the way things are done around here.”

John Faulkner-Willcock: “For culture tomorrow I like ‘it’s how we will do our best work together’.”

So, while there may be lots of ways to describe it, the one thing I am taking away from all the books and papers I have read is that for culture to be real, and for it to stick you have to be intentional with it. This applies to any culture – including our friendship circles and relationships outside of work. It’s easy to let things float and happen organically, but if you want to maintain relationships you have to be intentional and deliberate.

For me, communication is a tangible way of demonstrating culture. If culture is where the purpose, values and behaviours sit, then articulating those for employees and sharing stories that link to them is communication.

If you’re looking to be more intentional, here are my five steps to get you started:

Find your purpose: spend time thinking about the purpose of your organisation and the behaviours you want to see that will deliver that. What is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable now that the world of work is different? What is needed to enable you to get things done? Without this first step, we won’t be able to set an intention to move forward.

Check your channels: think about the channels you use to communicate. Do they reflect where you are as an organisation and do they enable you to be more efficient and more engaging? What did you stop and start during lockdown and what will you keep or remove?

Be action orientated: focus on outcomes and the acts needed to get there. Listen and respond, don’t just listen. And listen in the right way for you – this might be a weekly poll, an annual survey or using technology to go live every month. What’s important is that you take action based on what you hear.

Mind the say/do gap: make sure that you do what you say and that your actions and words are closely linked. Trust is a foundational pillar for any culture and there must be trust and respect through the organisation. If you don’t know, say you don’t know and if you say you will do something by a certain time, do it or explain why it cannot be done. 

Recognise and reinforce: recognition and measurement need to be woven into what you do. Make sure you’re looking at this with the behaviours in mind and how things will get done. You need to appreciate people and reinforce the good, while also measuring what matters to your organisation.

If you’d like to find out more about culture, this is a topic I talk about in my book, Influential Internal Communication, where I discuss how to fix a toxic culture using The Field Model. If you’d like to chat about any issues you’re experiencing with your organisational culture, please get in touch with me at info@redefiningcomms.com.

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