• Because culture is deeply ingrained into nearly everything an organization thinks and does, it can be difficult to transform culture, even when changes in the business environment require it.
• A number of emerging workplace trends have created new challenges for creating and maintaining a positive, unified culture.
While there’s no one-size fits-all when it comes to the right corporate culture for your organization, the benefits of creating a strong culture — one that aligns with your mission and values — are well-documented. To name just two, research has long demonstrated the link between strong cultures and lower rates of voluntary employee turnover, and a landmark study by Harvard University professor emeritus James Heskett suggests that as much as half of the difference in operating profit between organizations can be attributed to effective cultures.
But if culture is so important, then why aren’t more companies getting it right?
The simple answer is, creating and maintaining a positive, unifying culture in the face of a fast-moving business environment isn’t easy. Plenty of barriers can trip up even the most well-intentioned organizations, and all of these happen within the changing external environment — which brings its own set of issues.
The nature of culture itself is part of what makes this process so difficult. Whether you’ve intentionally created it or not, every organization has a culture, and culture runs deep. It’s embedded into nearly everything an organization thinks and does. That’s what makes a strong culture so powerful, but it’s also what makes it so hard to change.
As the environment evolves and the culture needs to transform along with it, there can be a huge resistance to changing something that’s been so integral to getting the company to where it is. It’s human nature to hold onto “what got you here,” even if those elements are now becoming liabilities. But in the end, those past successes keep you from doing the things you need to do to be successful in the future.
4 New Barriers to a Creating Successful Workplace Culture
In addition to past successes becoming roadblocks to culture change, there are a number of emerging workplace trends that are making it even more difficult to build and sustain a strong culture in today’s environment. In our recent study of how senior leaders create successful workplace cultures, respondents identified some key workplace developments that are affecting their success in creating a great culture, including:
- A more dispersed, fragmented workforce: Culture stems from shared learning, but in many organizations, the conditions have shifted in such a way that the human interactions needed for shared learning simply aren’t there. Many interactions and working relationships are now transient (as with ad hoc teams and contract employees), while the increase in remote employees accelerating during the Covid-19 crisis means there are often fewer opportunities for the kind of face-to-face interactions that can speed up the creation of trust and team cohesion.
Differences in the way people think and behave based on their own societal cultures complicates managing corporate culture even further, especially for employees working across global time zones.
- Pressure to increase productivity: While increased productivity is typically one of the expected and desired outcomes of a strong corporate culture, the pressure it puts on managers and employees alike can actually get in the way of maintaining one. In our research, senior leaders said that pressure to increase productivity (50%) was the leading challenge to creating and maintaining a positive company culture, followed by the trend of increasing employee mobility (42%) and more demanding employees (36%).
- Integrating mergers and acquisitions: Getting one culture right is challenging; the complexity involved with integrating multiple cultures takes it to another level. When multiple cultures come together, they can merge, they can co-exist, or one can dominate. Making sure the intended culture wins out is a big task. Senior leaders from “culture champion” (CC) companies in our survey — the subset of companies with particularly successful cultures — were more concerned about the challenge of cultural integration following a merger or acquisition than other leaders (38% vs. 28%).
- Workplace transparency: There are two dimensions to workplace transparency. The first is top down — leaders who are open and honest, willing to communicate the good and bad news, explaining their actions. Then there’s bottom-up transparency, which is a result of the unprecedented line-of-sight employees today have to what leaders say and do. In addition, employees’ perceptions of the companies they work for aren’t just shaped by messages from internal sources any more. Outside forums like GlassDoor and LinkedIn, where it’s a lot harder to control the company’s image and message, are now a factor as well.
Senior leaders from CC companies are particularly aware of these shifts. The largest discrepancy between CCs and all other leaders was on workplace transparency, where 44% of CC leaders cited it as challenge compared with just 27% of other respondents.
As you take steps to build and maintain a healthy workplace culture, you need to be aware of these and other barriers you’ll likely have to overcome to get there. It is also important to recognize that, with the reality of an ever-changing business environment, this won’t be a one-time effort. Creating a great corporate culture is an ongoing process.
In the face of challenges like these, the effective management of the culture will depend heavily on the attitudes of senior leaders. Because if they don’t believe culture is a priority, it will be all too easy for any or all of these barriers to prevent the necessary change from happening.
How equipped are your leaders to transcend these barriers? Are they ready to inspire and guide the change that ongoing culture management inevitably requires? Dale Carnegie provides a variety of leadership development training programs that address the unique needs of senior leaders when it comes to gaining employee commitment and building a healthy, engaged culture. These are the same programs some of the most notable corporate leaders rely on to help them lead the way to sustainable success.