The truth about workplace culture

Can we really change workplace culture in Perth? The short answer is yes. The real answer is much longer and more complex. 

Before anything can change there needs to be understanding. There is still the tendency to oversimplify culture and reduce it to a list of token perks and happiness surveys. Many people, including HR professionals and managers, don’t seem to grasp what culture is and how to achieve positive cultural change. This is illustrated by the 2022 Global Trends – The Reinvention of Company Culture Report. An interesting read, but it certainly highlights the trend to focus on happiness indices which don’t paint a full picture of culture and are more an indication of climate.

Culture is a long game. It’s dynamic and multifaceted. It’s more than company values and employee behaviours. It goes beyond team building activities. It’s ongoing. It’s about people who thrive. It’s supported by leaders who are invested and committed.  It’s difficult. And exhausting.

Climate versus culture

Climate and culture are not the same. Unlike culture, climate is generally made up of what people see going on, what that observation means to them and how they feel about it all. The happiness indices (a.k.a engagement surveys) generally measure this. In reality, if your engagement scores go from 92% to 95% that’s great but it’s unlikely that business performance will improve. Climate is easier to see and has short-term impacts on performance and is generally what we focus on. It’s the outcome of the culture.

Culture on the other hand is harder to see, harder to measure and much harder to change. It has a long-term impact on performance and, because of this, is a better predictor of performance. The effort and commitment required to change workplace culture is substantial and the cost is often more than executives are willing to invest.

What is workplace culture?

Human Synergistics International defines “culture” in an organisational context as being the shared norms and expectations that govern the way people approach their work, problem-solve and interact with each other. These norms and expectations shape how people believe that they are expected to behave in order to fit in and get things done, and, at times, simply survive in that environment. People behave in a certain way because that’s what their organisation expects of them, whether explicitly or implicitly.

Workplace culture is a complex system. It’s the interplay between processes and policies, and the collective mindset about norms and expectations which is shaped by leadership. Leadership drives culture. Culture drives performance. Culture is both the cause of leadership styles and the outcome of leadership styles.

Culture change: A waste of time or worth the effort?

If senior leaders don’t understand culture and the focus and commitment that it takes to drive positive change, or they simply are not invested in it then attempting to implement change is a waste of time. If an organisation attempts token gestures or is motivated by public perception and not dedicated to genuine change then it’s a waste of time.

It takes a very strong, competent and empowered leader(ship) to shift culture. People thrive in a positive culture. Thriving people perform better. Culture change is worth the effort.

Principles for driving positive culture change in your organisation

Human Resource teams have a phenomenal capacity to educate, influence and make practical changes to the levers that can help build more constructive cultures. At Reimagine HR we use Human Synergistics’ key principles to coach HR teams to positively influence their workplace culture:

  1. It starts at the top. Leadership development is key for sustainably leading by example. Leaders need to be more than culture curious; they need to be all in.
  2. It requires a burning passion. Leaders and HR managers have to actually care about the ‘why’ and know that the effort is worth it.  Authenticity is key.
  3. Make the case for change. There needs to be a vision and an HR strategy so that effort isn’t wasted on things that won’t make a difference. 
  4. Engage people in the process. Culture change is about critical mass and often that can mean crafting your culture change plan by listening to the people who are the foundation of your business.
  5. Create a meaningful vocabulary around change and define what it means for people. HR consultants have a bad rep using frameworks and corporate language that nobody understands. Use stories and metaphors to help people understand that burning passion for change. Think heart, not head.
  6. Let go of the one ‘magic solution’. Culture can’t be copied from another awesome organisation. It takes work and time, and is unique to you. There is no magic bullet to achieve that magical feeling of a high performance culture.
  7. Build self-awareness through feedback. Learn to understand how people at all levels behave, interact and lead. If you don’t know how working styles are impacting individuals, teams and leaders then you don’t know the right levers for change. Know where to focus your effort.
  8. Build in reality checks. Culture change is a long game. It’s an iterative process that needs to be monitored and reviewed to measure effectiveness and change along the way. 
  9. Trust the science. There is significant research behind the process of culture change. There is a lot of ‘intell’ out there about the organisational factors that impact your culture. There are tools, assessments and strategies to support positive change. Don’t be afraid to engage an HR consultant to support your culture change journey. 
  10. Change the systems, structures and processes and over time the behaviours will change. Don’t focus on behaviours, performance management and putting ‘rules’ in place to address behaviours you don’t like. 

It’s okay to be part of the HR and People & Culture space and own up to not knowing how to do this culture caper. It’s hard. Being vulnerable is hard. Reimagine HR embraces vulnerability and we’re here to support you with coaching and strategies that drive genuine organisational change.  We’re passionate about supporting organisations in Perth to develop a positive workplace culture. 

Get in touch today to find out how our consulting or coaching can help you.

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