Podcast :

How culture influences organisations in times of uncertainty

11 June 2020

Jenine Waters , National Leader, People Advisory |
Joe Occhino , Associate Director, People Advisory |

Whether you design it or not, one thing is for sure - company culture will happen. It’s not enough to post value statements on the foyer wall, or add coffee machines, bean bags and ping pong tables. Culture is deeply structural and behaviour driven; a powerful resource that only humans can create and sustain. Leave it unguided and it shall simply form itself.

So how important is company culture, especially in today’s uncertain environment, and can it be changed?

What you need to know about company culture

In its simplistic form, company culture is those normalised behaviours that an organisation accepts and which play out in the day to day environment. Sometimes they are aligned to the company’s beliefs and values, and sometimes they aren’t.

You can tell when culture is moving in the right direction because people feel safe to call out behaviours that are not in alignment with what their leaders determine is appropriate.

How important is culture in the current environment?

In an uncertain situation, culture is key to surviving in a positive way.

Businesses rely on their employees to step up and make sacrifices during a crisis. Culture is key to enabling that to happen, giving employees the motivation to do their part. Essentially, to make them want to make those sacrifices.

In a situation like COVID-19, we see this playing out perhaps more than ever before - organisations asking employees to stand down, take pay cuts, work differently. For businesses finding success at this time, there is a culture of “we’re all in this together”. For others, those that haven’t made their employees feel valued or respected, or where there’s a lack of direction on how they are expected to behave, they are more likely to experience stress and get behind decisions made by their leaders.

The benefit of COVID-19 on culture

These are difficult times, but they aren’t without their opportunities.

The benefit of COVID-19 is that the behaviours being exhibited now are good indicators of where your culture is (i.e. the extent to which people put in extra effort, the way they are supporting each other, the messaging from the leadership).

By pausing and examining your company’s response to the coronavirus, and decisions you’ve had to make, you can get a good temperature check on your current culture, which will allow you to make strategic changes for the better.

How challenging is it to shift culture?

As with many things, it can take only a second to unravel an organisation’s culture, while building a new one is more difficult. At the centre of both are your leaders.

Many leaders around the world think too big when it comes to changing their culture. Programs, workshops, documents, these are all important and useful, but it’s easier to go back to basics - people.

Human beings want to feel like they matter. If our leaders show people that they matter through recognising effort, thanking them for a job well done, providing timely feedback, and then those workers show other people (and customers) that they matter in turn, this will shift your culture a step forward every single day.

Does organisational size impact culture?

Yes, size of business absolutely does have an impact on culture, and how easy it is to change it. As a business increases in scale, all of the things that were easy in the past (conversing daily, making snap decisions, staying agile) become much more complicated.

But just because it’s more complicated doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It will take more effort, but if people continue to come first then cultural change will occur.

Importantly, for this change to work and last - regardless of business size - leaders need to walk their talk. They must have the courage to address the behaviours that don’t align to their values, no matter who the person is on the team.

Can you demonstrate ROI on company culture?

Your people are your business. We’ve seen time and again organisations coming to us for help improving their bottom line and we’ve discovered that the root cause of their money problems stem from unhappy staff - high turnover, poor customer service, low productivity, all things that harm profitability.

If these organisations were to take the time to analyse their people, not just their profits, they would have seen that unhappiness was costing them a fortune each year. By working hard to turn their cultures around, they could improve their profit margins and therefore demonstrate ROI.

People are at the heart of what we do here at BDO Australia, and we practice what we preach in all things culture. If you require help navigating the changes required to turn your people around, especially in the midst of a difficult economic environment, contact your BDO Adviser.