Reputation is what you say, what you do and what others say about you. Organisations that adopt a reputation-driven approach to decision-making and governance will usually have a culture built on integrity and respect for all stakeholders. As we collectively emerge from the COVID cocoon over the coming weeks and months, uncertainty and indecisiveness will reign. However, for those in leadership positions, this uncertainty also brings with it opportunity – to influence culture through deeds, words and actions and build corporate reputation from the inside-out.
Recent research from MIT, 'Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation', shows that 2022’s so-called “Great Resignation” – where it’s predicted record numbers will leave their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends - will be driven primarily by toxic corporate culture. Culture is a powerful engine that shapes reputation from within organisations. When it thrives, culture acts as a talent magnet, a performance driver, creates a positive experience for employees and, as a consequence, customers. When it’s toxic, it creates major reputation risks for organisations.
Culture tells us what to do when the boss isn't in the room, or virtual room as the case may have been for the past two years. Ordinarily, the role of a leader has been to deliver upon a vision for their organisation while fostering the unwritten rules and ways of working that will bring this vision to life. As many organisations grapple with how best to embrace the future of hybrid working, how can leaders use this unique opportunity to reunite employees under one common sense of purpose and belonging, and enable teams to continue to effectively collaborate and communicate?
Drive the Culture Conversation
The surprise announcement on restrictions lifting in late January caught many leaders and employees off guard. Uncertainty breeds worry and negativity. Open and honest dialogue by leadership is one of the most effective ways to build strong cultures. The more employees know about you and your thinking the more it can help instil in them a good sense of your mindset and the culture you are trying to foster and encourage. Our recent research has shown that leaders can be reluctant to engage in direct dialogue for fear of what they’ll hear or, indeed, of being criticised. Leaders that are comfortable in encouraging, listening and responding to employees in a non-controlled way are the ones that are helping to drive the culture conversation and will reap the benefits.
Curate, Don’t Control
Relying on a culture plan or roadmap with a clear set of targets and objectives might seem like an appealing idea but if COVID has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected and allow for flex. Rigid ‘culture plans’ will be seen as manufactured and inauthentic, and therefore rarely succeed. Culture is a group phenomenon and like any group phenomenon, it cannot be controlled or managed. It resides in shared behaviours, values, and assumptions and is most commonly experienced through the unwritten rules and behaviours of leaders and employees. Good leaders will find ways to curate the best elements of organisational culture on an ongoing basis to reflect the evolution of the business.
Listen and Act
As workplace restrictions are lifted it is important to understand that decisions made now will set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that might persist for decades. Curating your company’s culture starts with active listening, with a genuine intention to understand how the organisation functions, its underlying issues, and a commitment to act on cultural insights. Too often leaders will embark on company-wide listening exercises but then fail to act on what they are hearing or being told. Culture leaders will be skilled and equipped to listen and will demonstrate this by finding new ways to show this dialogue has helped shape organisational culture.
Bring your Culture to Life
In the war for talent, culture has become a core pillar of employer brands. When an organisation has a great culture, people will naturally talk about it and become its ambassadors. An organisation with leadership that is in tune with the culture it is curating will be aware of the multiple cultures as they exist and evolve and will recognise the elements they want to amplify. In the context of the “Great Resignation”, cultivating the best elements of your culture and amplifying them internally and externally can help to build organisations that succeed against the odds and earn the reputation needed to fulfil strategic objectives.
Culture is the fabric of an organisation. It’s “how we do things around here”. It drives individual and collective behaviours that shape corporate reputation. It’s never too late to take steps to better understand existing culture and set a vision to leverage culture as a key enabler of strategy and reputation.