- The most useful definitions of culture are simple and actionable
- There's often a gap between company's ideal and actual culture
- Cultures need to be clearly defined, quantified and intentionally managed
This article is the first in a two-part series.
Just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization's values to their work every day, according to Gallup, and only 27% strongly agree that they "believe in" their organization's values.
These findings should be alarming to leaders, as they raise fundamental questions about whether workers buy into their company's values and culture -- or what leaders say their company's values and culture are.
Gaps Between Desired Culture and Real Culture
Part of the problem is that "organizational culture" isn't easy to define. It has been defined in myriad ways, from broad descriptions of employee behavior to academic philosophies and perspectives.
Gallup has found that the most useful definitions of culture are simple and actionable. We define culture as how employees interact and how work gets done. Our research also shows that the ways that work gets done vary across companies -- and this variance affects organizational performance.
Unfortunately, our research also shows that in many companies, gaps exist between the desired culture -- the one leaders envision and strive to realize -- and the culture that employees experience.
These gaps create inconsistency and confusion for employees and customers. The most successful companies identify these gaps and implement strategies, systems and processes that reduce them, taking actions that incrementally move the company closer to its aspired culture.
Culture can be a formidable driver of performance. But when a company struggles with gaps between the desired culture and the actual culture, this hinders it from achieving performance goals and meeting customers' needs.
Too often, leaders carefully select values that define their ideal culture, but these values fail to resonate with employees and influence the way work gets done. With so few employees strongly agreeing they can apply their company's values to their work every day or believing in their company's values, most businesses need to strengthen their culture and bring their values to life.
Tying Culture to Organizational Identity
The most successful companies Gallup has studied don't see culture as a stand-alone initiative or program; instead, they take a comprehensive and integrated approach to creating and sustaining it. By approaching culture as a way to bring the company's purpose to life -- and create a brand that uniquely meets customers' needs -- these businesses not only create cultures worthy of studying -- they build a strategic foundation for outstanding performance.
Therefore, Gallup also sees culture as part of a larger dynamic called organizational identity. Culture alone is devoid of impact -- and potentially destructive to progress -- if employees move in different directions because leaders don't tie culture to the company's purpose and brand, strategically managing these elements in tandem.
Leaders might have a powerful vision for their company's culture, but if they fail to measure and align culture with purpose and brand, the result will be fragmented messaging and poor performance.
Companies with strong cultures make reinforcing that culture a constant priority. Using data and analytics, they take culture from words to action and performance. They create messages that communicate their desired culture to employees; they back programs that recognize employees whose work supports the desired culture; and they align their performance management systems with their cultural aspirations.
Most importantly, these companies measure and manage the strength of their purpose and brand regularly to ensure all three elements -- purpose, brand and culture -- work together to create a robust and unique identity.
To shift their culture from what is to what could be, leaders need to ensure that the culture is:
Clearly defined, communicated and managed as an extension of purpose and brand.
Quantified. Once leaders define the desired culture, they need to know whether the company is succeeding at bringing the culture to life. Quantitative measures enable leaders to track progress over time and link culture to relevant business outcomes.
Intentionally managed. Companies should deliberately manage and review activities and processes to be sure they communicate messages that are consistent with the desired culture.
The second article in this series explores the key drivers of organizational identity. It also shows leaders how they can apply those drivers to align employees with the company's desired culture and push the organization toward its ideal identity.