Keeping track of your organisation culture

michael_applebyOne of my favourite quotes to come out of the banking crisis a few years ago was “culture is what happens when people think no-one is looking”.

For me the quote creates images of the child taking biscuits from the biscuit jar at home when they think their parents aren’t looking. Considering the quote came from Bob Diamond, the ex-Chief Executive of Barclays, that image isn’t entirely incorrect. What the quote does highlight is that essentially unless you directly take control of your organisation culture, one will develop which might not be the one you actually want.

When you focus in on the housing sector you can also see what role errant organisation cultures have played in the various problems experienced in recent years. Sure, policies and procedures are important tools for setting out how work should be completed and structures define where responsibilities sit. But culture determines how individuals behave on a day to day basis, how they interact with other staff and external stakeholders (including customers), how willing they are to go that extra mile to deliver better performance, and critically, how susceptible they might be to ‘cutting corners’ or take other potentially inappropriate actions.

Introducing and then sustaining the desired culture is difficult and it is often highlighted to us as one of the most complex issues our clients face. But you rarely see it listed on an organisation’s risk register. We often challenge our clients that it should be.

Even if you do identify culture as a risk to your organisation, what can you do to mitigate that risk and keep track of your organisation’s health? Here are some pointers:

  • Lead on organisation culture from the top down – Like it or not culture is always determined by the attitudes and behaviours of an organisation’s leaders, therefore the Board and Executive should define what culture the organisation should have and then pro-actively model it.
  • Model it on a daily basis – once defined the culture should be modelled top down on a daily basis in all activities.
  • Recruit people who buy into the chosen culture and reward those who model it –Develop an employer brand which attracts the right individuals to apply and a selection process which assesses not only skills and experience, but also values and cultural fit.
  • Monitor potential problem areas – make sure you monitor your organisational health indicators (i.e. employee engagement, absence etc.) but also actively monitor wider culture – ask your staff to describe the culture they operate in, compare that across the organisation and to the culture you’d like to develop.
  • Encourage openness so individuals feel comfortable in highlighting issues early – after problems have been identified, individuals often comment that they were aware of the issues a long time before they emerged. Developing an open culture, particularly at manager level, with awareness across the organisation of whistleblowing policies, is an important step in supporting individuals to raise issues before they become too embedded.

This all highlights that culture is more than just defining organisation values. It needs to be something which is pro-actively modelled, managed and monitored.

Getting the right culture is important, it not only defines who you are as an organisation, but also helps to ensure that you’re able to identify and deal with any issues as they arise.

For more information on how we can help you to define and implement your own organisation culture please contact Michael Appleby, Head of Organisational Excellence on 07545 314 749 or