Culture is a core element of any organisation and should not be left unattended to morph and take its own shape. In an age where everything in an organisation can be copied by competitors, culture remains the one thing that cannot be duplicated. Seugnet van den Berg, MD at consulting firm Bizmod, says that an organisation’s culture needs to be designed, implemented and assessed. This allows it to be clearly established and can then be carried through in all areas of the company.
At its highest level, culture simply means ‘the way we do things around here’, says van den Berg. She likes to use the analogy of a layer cake to explain the role and development of an organisation’s culture. “The bottom layer of the cake is made up of employee assumptions. What they assume about their organisation, fellow employees and their purpose in the organisation. The second layer constitutes the values of the organisation – what is important to the people that work there. The third layer relates to behaviour – how do we expect people to behave. Finally, the icing represents the artefacts chosen by the organisation to create the visual part of their identity.
She says that it is at the third level that cultural ambassadors are created. These are individuals that identify so strongly with the organisation culture that they embody the cultural ethos, share it with those around them and are able to direct fellow employees.
Van den Berg recommends that management assess their organisation’s culture so that they are able to apply the necessary interventions to steer the direction and vision of the ideal cultural state. She provides the below tips for helping to create a cultural fit:
• Develop a clear picture of what the culture of the organisation should be. Depicting the ideal state of the desired culture is necessary when designing the culture. Van den Berg recommends applying the ‘future backwards’ technique to do this. “By putting oneself in the future and looking on the organisation and seeing what it represents from a financial, product, investment and cultural perspective will help in developing the ideal cultural fit.
• Define the organisation values that employees can identify with. “This should not be seen as a frivolous and fluffy exercise,” warns van den Berg, “this element plays a vital role in establishing the organisation culture and is not just about niceties, it has to ring true with all levels of the organisation.”
• Define the ideal employee behaviour. There should be a clear guideline for what is on brand in terms of behaviour and what is off brand. It is important to state what is required and ideal – don’t just assume people will know.
• Define the culture clearly. This means understanding the dimensions of the culture relevant for the organisation. It also means understanding what it is now and what it needs to be in the future, and the interventions required to achieve this.
• By using a tool such as Barrett to measure the culture, a snapshot of where the organisation is currently at is given and the necessary interventions can be applied.
“Management often struggles with the concept that culture has value,” says van den Berg. She likens culture to the governance role in an organisation. “It is not something tangible but if not done it diminishes shareholder value.” She concludes that the culture of an organisation should be seen as a part of what creates value in the organisation and not as something optional to attend to.