Best company culture definition

There are too many different definitions of company culture. You’ll easily find hundreds for this umbrella term and Wikipedia isn’t very helpful either. Let’s approach culture in organizations in a practical way.

What is organizational culture?

Instead of trying to define it in a comprehensive way, let’s first look at its characteristics.
Corporate culture is

  • like a common DNA, it serves as a frame of reference on how people behave
  • both the glue that holds an organization together as the compass that provides direction
  • ever-present in the sense that it is there, always (whether you manage it or not)
  • composed of observable elements: architecture, processes, corporate clothing, stories, gossip  … but also less/ not observable elements: values, underlying assumptions, unwritten rules…
  • learned or transmitted through social interaction
  • dynamic and subject to change in response to internal or external influences
  • not necessarily the same in all units, subcultures can exist

If you do prefer a more formal definition, I like the one offered by Edgar Schein of MIT’s Sloan

School of Management. In a shortened version, it reads like this:

A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned … considered valid and, therefore, is taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel

So culture is the guiding tenet of a company. It steers behaviour and success, just like a strategy does.

How does culture relate to values?

In his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, Schein divides organizational culture into three different levels.

You probably see why it is sometimes referred to as the onion model.

In this view, values are the written expressions of an organizational culture. So culture is not equal to values, but values are like beliefs that steer behaviour. Behaviours that define the unique way in which employees relate to each other, to their work and to the outside world.

So values and culture are interlinked but not the same. You could put it like this:

Values are your starting point and culture is what you end up with.

Values together with company traditions, rituals and symbols help people understand how to behave and relate. Some organisations have a set of documents that describe their company culture. It usually details: the company’s mission or vision, the core values and traditions, rituals and symbols. Call it a company culture code if you wish.

Are you interested to learn what sorts of values there are and how you can best define your own unique set? Look out for the next post in our Culture series.

Koen Schreurs
Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    Building a Positive Company Culture – 3 Essentials that REALLY move the needle

    Wellness programs, in-house massages, unlimited free food or even a complete office refurbishment … today, we find more and more companies coming up with all kinds of new trend-chasing initiatives, all of them having to meet but one requirement: the fancier, the better! These investments tend to be made with a view to attract and retain unique talent and skilled workers. And, indeed, building a positive workplace culture is absolutely key if that is the purpose of the exercise.

    Yet, behind the scenes, I find myself wondering: what about the long term effect of these investments? At this rate, soon every organisation will be offering these kinds of fancy benefits. And then what? Because once that is the case, the question arises as to whether these initiatives will still truly make a difference and, in effect, move the needle when it comes to creating a motivating workplace where people continue to thrive?

    I reckon we can already get a glimpse of the answer to this question if we carefully scan our contemporary compensation and benefits landscape. In the course of the last 5 years, a lot of companies went out of their way to optimise and enlarge their employees’ wage packages, much in the same way as the investments that are nowadays made in those fancy initiatives.

    What we see in this compensation and benefits landscape, however, is not in the slightest what we initially expected to see!

    What we expected to see was a league of engaged employees, who were motivated to push their limits. What we – in all reality – see is that we have created a league of cautious employees who have started to behave in an almost prisoner-like way: they conform and don’t dare to stick their neck out, because they are afraid of losing all their beloved benefits.

    Where are we going wrong?
    Where is our blind spot?

    If you ask me, the answer here lies in the common misconception of what it supposedly takes to build a strong and positive company culture.

    There seems to be a trend of relying on a predominantly materialistic approach to creating supposedly happy employees. Yet 25 years of experience in the field of recognition have taught me that improving your company culture is – above all – a matter of sheer trust. Indeed, a strong workplace culture is first and foremost built on a fundament of open dialogue, transparency and connection.

    That is why, as an employer, it is so crucial to provide a safe environment for your employees – one in which solid standards are set and everyone walks their talk. Because if employers and managers practice what they preach, their people are bound to follow suit!

    Based on Arteel’s expertise, I summarised here below 3 essentials which, when applied correctly, WILL move the needle very quickly and skyrocket any company culture!

    1. The importance of alignment

    It all starts with creating a clear vision on where you want your company to be headed and how you want it to help make the world a better place. People – and especially our millennial generation – need to feel a deep connection with the organisation they work for. They need to feel aligned with the organisation’s reason for being and its core values. They need to feel a strong sense of belonging. They need to feel they are contributing to the company’s purpose in a meaningful way. In other words, you have to make sure your employees feel unquestionably aligned with your company purpose and values! That being said, I can not tell you how often I encounter leaders and managers who, when I ask them to articulate their company mission or values, simply fall silent. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the number one thing so many companies struggle with, is getting their purpose and values imprinted in their employees’ DNA. That is why – to initiate and accelerate this vital proces – I recommend empowering every employee in the company to take part in it. Provide for a platform upon which every employee is given the opportunity to recognise his or her peers when noticing positive behaviour that is in line with the company purpose and/or values. By introducing this new approach, you will be surprised to find how quickly and efficiently the process of ‘living the company values’ is enhanced.

    Find out more about this speciality of ours on

    2. The importance of social connection

    In this digital day and age, we often forget that human beings are inherently social creatures – people thrive on feeling connected! A sense of social connectivity activates the production of the “happiness hormone” oxytocin and we are wired to experience it as deeply rewarding. That is why, when a person feels truly connected and has a sense of belonging, he or she will be twice as likely to enjoy good health. Good health entails more energy, and the more energy we experience, the higher the mountains we can move. The opposite, however, is equally true. As a matter of fact, a lack of social relationships at work constitutes a main contributing factor to why people fall ill or slip into a depression. Research has even shown that experiencing social connection and a sense of belonging is more important to our health than the diet we eat and – inversely – a lack thereof creates a greater overall risk to our health than smoking or drinking does. So connecting people socially on the work floor is bound to create a much bigger bang for the company than all of those earlier-mentioned trend-chasing initiatives ever could!

    Curious to put this to the test? Simply contact us by phone on +32 16 499 960 to ask for our top 5 tips to increase social connectivity in the workplace.

    3. The importance of the human touch factor

    One of the greatest gifts we can give our employees is the gift of appreciation, compassion and encouragement.

    “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody – I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat” – Mother Theresa

    Up to 75% of people report that the most stressful part of their job is their interaction with their immediate supervisor. What a shocking eye opener! This entails that tremendous amounts of stress stem from people going through their days with a feeling of not being appreciated for who they are and what they do. So how about if we simply made the effort to truly care about the people whose lives we are privileged to lead, and send them home in the evening feeling respected and valued? Imagine what a difference that would make! Not only would it improve our employees’ quality of life, it would equally positively impact the company’s financial results by reducing the health costs that arise from absenteeism. Not to mention the far more positive impression left on customers and all the benefits that would flow from that! Unfortunately, what I have noticed time after time in the course of my career, is that more often than not people struggle to give recognition. Somehow, the act of recognising and expressing their appreciation makes them feel very uncomfortable.  And they cope by doing nothing, rather than running the risk of losing face. That is a problem, however, because if employees feel they are mere meaningless numbers instead of valued individuals, their work is unlikely to matter to them much. As a result, chances are that it won’t take long before they start looking for a job that feels more fulfilling and interesting to them. And the company is left looking for yet another employee to fill the gap… Luckily, experience has taught me that there is an easy and accessible way to start turning this tide!  Simply begin by adhering importance to the more ‘formal’  occasions upon which employees can be recognised. I hereby think of years of service, on-boarding, safety milestones, other special achievements or family moments such as a wedding or a baby shower. Letting people know they are important and cared-for, as well as increasing the number of moments of connection, are two of the most important components of a thriving company culture. On top of that, honouring wins and milestones improves the in-house morale in a significant way, something which is always a bonus!

    Discover how companies such as Deloitte and Nike increased their human touch factor simply by restructuring their recognition approach via an email on


    A positive workplace culture makes for a world of difference when it comes to attracting and retaining skilled and talented workers, increased levels of productivity and an improved in-house morale. And we guarantee you that if you put the above 3 simple rules to the test in your very own workplace in a consistent way, you are bound to be surprised by how quickly you will able to move the needle – without spending too much money or time.

    Good luck!

    Nathalie Arteel
    Recognition & Motiviation Expert
    Leading Angel Arteel Group

    About FIKA and the importance of coffee corners in cultural change

    Obviously communication is an essential ingredient of every company culture initiative. But it is an illusion to assume people leaders are the sole players in helping people adapt to change. Coffee corner talk is more important than top down communications by management. In the coffee corner, stories are shared that greatly influence how people think about culture transformation or any change program. Exchanges between peers that trust each other often outweigh the impact of official communications.

    So what can you do with coffee corner talk?

    1. Get feedback from the front lines
    What is said around the coffee machine is a reflection of your company culture. Culture transformations should start from the top, but company culture is defined by the behaviour of the majority of people in your organization. Use tools such as anonymous employee surveys, focus group discussions or talk to people who have a personal connection to what’s being talked about in the coffee corner. Whatever you do, make sure to find ways to take the ‘coffee corner pulse’ on how people are feeling and talking about your change initiative.

    2. Change your perspective on coffee corner talk
    Talk in the coffee corner is not idle chitchat or gossip. It represent the authentic thoughts of employees towards your company culture. Identify influencers: people not in a managerial position but that have an informal network and typically enjoy more trust from their peers than people leaders do. Actively involve them in shaping the culture transformation program. And ask for their verbal support. Their talk in the coffee corner will significantly speeds up your implementation. So use this powerful resource to ensure your culture program execution is effective.

    You have no coffee corner? Read on about FIKA!

    Fika – which roughly translates from Swedish as drinking coffee, eating sweet treats and chatting – is as much a part of the working day in Sweden as having meetings and emailing. Many Swedish firms have mandatory fika breaks and employees are given free hot drinks. At IKEA, it is described as:

    More than a coffee break, fika is a time to share, connect and relax with colleagues. Some of the best ideas and decisions happen at fika.

    Afraid that all these regular coffee breaks make for an inefficient workforce? No worries, according to the OECD productivity index, Sweden enjoys a very respectable seventh place, well above the G7 or EU average.

    Next break, take time for a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the chatter!

    Koen Schreurs
    Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    Best approach for culture-based recruitment

    If you want to support a strong company culture, it’s logical to start with recruiting and selecting applicants who will share the organization’s beliefs and thrive in that culture. But what hiring practices best ensure cultural fit? And how to avoid the biggest drawback?

    What are practical steps to hire for values?

    1. Translate values into behaviours
    You need to understand the cultural DNA of your organization. Describe your company’s values and behaviours that form the core of your culture. Sometimes it is even valuable to define specific values-based behaviours for a given role or group.

    2. Develop interview questions for each of those values and behaviours
    Draft questions that ask the applicant to give specific examples of past behaviour you can link to your core values. For example, if your organization values initiative and proactive team behaviour, you can ask “Can you give me an example of when you saw an issue outside of your direct scope that affected team performance and you stepped in to address it?”.

    3. Design the interview process
    Consider conducting the skills and values part of an interview by different interviewers or at a different time. This way you are sure the values part will get the separate attention it deserves. And be sure not to start talking about company culture yourself. First, listen to what they have to say about their experiences and beliefs. This tactic will reveal more candid responses to help determine whether they are a fit for the organization. Specially to gauge the core values and beliefs, it way be worthwhile to involve two or even three interviewers. Different people will see and hear different things. These varied perspectives give a clearer understanding of the person being considered for hire.

    4. Use best practices during the interview
    Use the STAR acronym to collect all relevant information: situation, task, action and result. Also ask for the learning they derived from it. Ask for the impression a candidate makes with all people they interacted with. As an example, look at the ‘nice guy test’ as explained by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. At Zappos the recruiter asks the shuttle driver who drive in the candidate to their offices how he or she was treated. Abd listen for values alignment in the questions candidates ask. Try to really notice the kind of questions that they’re asking and think about the values that underly them.

    5. Decide how strict you are going to be
    Every decision to hire is based on an assessment of a mix of job requirements. Cognitive ability, personality, skills, attitude and cultural fit. In a context where there is a pressing need to fill a position, you should agree beforehand what importance you attach to the perceived cultural fit. My advice would be to do yourself and the candidate the favour to be rather strict on cultural fit.

    The biggest downside of hiring for cultural fit is that you limit diversity.

    It is human for recruiters to – at least unconsciously – select those most like themselves. Take for instance introverted versus extraverted personality.

    Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extraverts. – Susan Cain

    But if you have a very outgoing company culture, does that imply that someone who isn’t very extraverted will feel not happy in your company? After all, you don’t want only perfect matches that risk turning into too-cozy cliques in the workplace.

    So, in the end, what should you do?

    Think about how candidates might fit into your company culture, but also how they can add to it. And to what extend they proved capable to adapt to a new culture while staying true to themselves.

    Koen Schreurs
    Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    Securing your company’s future – major HR trend & top priority for 2018

    major HR trend & top priority for 2018

    It may sound counterintuitive, but by 2030, many of the world’s largest economies will have more jobs than adult citizens to do those jobs . We are headed for a global workforce crisis, which is why today, more than ever before, it is no longer enough to pay a decent salary and heap on some compensation & benefits. The only companies that will manage to hold on to their ticket to success for decennia to come are the ones that start securing their future right now…

    How do I know this?

    As Sales & Marketing Director, I have been meeting top company CEOs on a daily basis for more than fifteen years. I walk through the corridors of their headquarters, and I see what I see. I listen to the stories they tell me during our meetings, and I hear what I hear.  And what I see and what I hear is crystal clear: we are facing a total make-over of our corporate landscape and the companies that will make the cut in years to come are the companies where you experience a strong and positive company culture.

    No more. No less.

    I’m not alone

    This personal experience of mine is backed up by both numbers and statistics, and viewpoints of other experts in the field. In his striking, data-filled TedTalk – “The workforce crisis of 2030 and how to start solving it now” –  HR Expert Rainer Strack, for example, presents us with some seriously intriguing numbers, statistics and insights!

    A “People Strategy” as the only key to survival

    While I would say the entire TedTalk is “compulsory watching” for any management and HR department, what it in essence boils down to is this: we are headed for a global workforce crisis that is approaching much faster than most of us realize, and the only way to make it out alive for any company will be to implement what Strack refers to as a “People Strategy”.

    A strategy in which workforce planning becomes more important than financial planning, and companies give it their all to attract talented employees, manage and upskill their talent, and manage to retain the best ones by realizing an appreciation and relationship culture within their company.

    Because YES: a global survey carried out by BCG amongst no less than 200 000 men and women from 189 countries showed that, when presented with a list of 26 topics and asked about their happiness on the job, “salary” only ranked in 8th place! The top 4 topics which people deemed most important were all related to company culture, with the top priority worldwide being “appreciation for your work” – and this not only once a year at Christmas, but every day of the week!

    High time to get started!


    Right now, we are at a turning point, and the companies of the future will be those companies that not only cite a company mission and a set of company values on a plaque in their entrance hall or on their website, but those who equally have the know-how to create a true and lasting connection between this mission and these values on the one hand, and their employees on the other: the employees of the companies of the future are the ones that feel truly appreciated and happy at work, and as such LIVE the company’s vision, mission and values – day, after day, after day.

    The essence of success lies hidden in the essence of your company culture… what then are you doing right now to secure your company’s future?

    Nathalie Arteel
    Recognition & Motivation Expert
    Leading Angel Arteel Group

    P.S. As an entrepreneur, I myself came across a lot of pitfalls in the process of developing my own People Strategy, assembling my own team of co-workers that give their professional all. And experience has taught me that most other companies come across those exact same pitfalls! Therefore, in the course of the last 15 years, I have been studying what it is that turns particular companies into lasting success stories, and how these companies go about composing their teams of dedicated and committed employees.

    I first applied the knowledge and expertise I gathered to my own company; on the basis thereof, me and my team then set out to develop a set of tools and solutions which could equally be applied in other companies, and which we now export to no less than 39 different countries!

    If you are interested in finding out more about our People Strategy, please don’t hesitate to contact me or one of my team members on We will be delighted to help you!

    Of Cows and Corporate Cultures

    I have just returned from Austria. Land of Nature. Land of Friendly People. And I discovered a weird analogy between the behaviour of cows and employees!

    Every summer, we travel there as some sort of cure for both our body and our mind. And every summer, we choose to stay in the same beautiful spot: a family-run hotel that started its business 40 years ago, when a farmer and a hairdresser shared a dream, a great amount of perseverance and a rocklike belief in their vision.

    In the course of time, we developed a close relationship with the entire Pirktl family. So, while we were enjoying our stay at their resort earlier this month, Herr Pirktl Senior kindly invited us to join him for a visit to an exceptionally beautiful alpine pasture – all the way up in the mountains – where he lets his herds of cattle graze over the summer months. While we were soaking in the breath-taking beauty of the view up there, Herr Pirktl shared with us a most peculiar fact:

    Year after year, more and more cows are starting to show aggressive behaviour towards the people hiking through the alpine highlands. At first sight, there seems to be no obvious or immediate cause for this change in behaviour: the cows are being given everything they could possibly need in terms of food and dietary supplements, as they have been for centuries. The only thing that has changed in the course of the last years, is the farmers’ attitude towards their cows: more and more do they treat the animals in view of their production capacity – milking them electronically, without any time or effort put into “sweet little nothings” or attentive caressing like in the old days. Strange as it may sound, the older and wiser generations of local people are convinced that this is the reason behind the peculiar fact that the cows have started to turn against anybody trespassing their meadows. Indeed, for them, the only plausible explanation for the remarkable change in the cows’ behaviour is to be found in the fact that the farmers simply have no more love or time to spare for their animals.

    While this makes for an entertaining story, there is at the same time an alarming undercurrent here – all the more because I come across the exact same phenomenon in a lot of companies these days!

    Management and HR departments are continuously looking for ways in which to further and further increase employees’ benefits in terms of wage-optimisation, perks and any trend-chasing initiative you could possibly imagine. Yet, ironically, at the exact same time, more and more employees seem to become more and more stressed and fall ill more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time.

    Some would consider this to be a contradiction in terms, but experience has taught me differently: most companies these days make company life far too complex and, as such, miss the obvious! Constructing abstract financial schemes tends to be put at the top of their list of priorities. Yet while doing so, they overlook the fact that what people basically need most in order to flourish and be happy, is some of the management’s time, recognition for who they are and appreciation for the work they do. And one can’t accomplish fulfilment of these basic needs by relying on even the best of schemes, plans, tables or spread sheets!

    Even when it comes to the tradition of end-of-year gifts, many companies nowadays choose to stick to giving an uninspiring voucher, just because this is the most convenient option. Or they simply convert the value of the end-of-year gift into a sum of money, just because this is the fiscally preferred option.

    In his book “Leaders eat last”, Simon Sinek discusses this prevailing mindset of “destructive abundance”, where the fear of losing what has been achieved holds sway over all corporate management decisions. As this mindset continues to prevail, hidden costs are steadily but strongly increasing. And in its wake, the popularity of the self-help industry is reaching an all-time high…

    And indeed, it hurts to have to confirm that, in this day and age, our corporate culture has become tainted by indifference – personal involvement is far to be found! What I see all too often reminds me of the song by Gilbert Bécaud, in which he sings “L’indifférence, elle te tue à petits coups”.

    So how about you? Do you believe this path we are on is what will make people happier and healthier in the long run?

    Luckily, once in a while, CEO’s with a different mindset cross my path, and I see companies steer a different course – a course where people take the centre stage, where a positive business culture is a conscious choice, where company values truly live in the day-to-day running of the company and where employees are treated as people instead of purely in view of their production capacity… and that observation does me a power of good!

    May I invite you to step up too? To show courage and create an inspired “thank you” – moment this year, one your employees will always remember? I can guarantee you this will not only surprise your employees in a positive way, but it will equally reinforce your employer brand!

    Nathalie Arteel
    Recognition & Motivation Expert
    Leading Angel Arteel Group

    P.S. Luckily, as you can see on the photo above, there are also still a lot of friendly cows out there, just as there are also still a lot of warm-hearted people! 🙂

    Why cultural change fails

    In the post on company culture problems, we identified five warnings signs for a culture that negatively impacts the company. But very often a toxic or broken culture is in fact a confused culture. A culture is confusing when employees receive conflicting messages. Sales guidelines are inconsistent with performance objectives. Leaders’ behaviour does not match with expected employee behaviour. Inconsistency breeds confusion.

    Culture change programs often focus on one or a few aspects of company culture.

    Ignoring alignment of all culture drivers is why most culture change fails. Initiatives that change only some cultural aspects either have no impact or – worse – have a negative impact by adding conflicting messages. Executive teams must look at the culture holistically and address all primary drivers that need alignment.

    But what are the main drivers of corporate culture? There are five drivers of company culture.

    1. Leadership and communication

    The way leaders define and communicate the company’s purpose and direction, influences whether employees will exemplify those values. Since actions speak louder than words, the most influential messages are broadcasted by the behaviour of leaders. They should walk the talk and act consistently with the values.

    2. Talent practices

    Organizations should hire, onboard, develop and engage employees aligned to the company values. Throughout the employee life cycle, organizations must be consistent on why someone gets hired, called a performer and receives a promotion.

    For example, advocating autonomy as a core value on your website and in your onboarding program, but allowing or even praising managers that micro-manage employees creates a confused culture.

    3. Work organization

    Structures, processes, teams and tools should support the desired culture. Most organizations base their operating structure on what worked in the past. They fail to see that organizing internal teams can greatly promote the desired culture. It can ensure that communication flows quickly and naturally, that ideas and responsibilities are shared between entities…

    For example, when you advocate a focus on customer service, but fail to organize in such a way that issues can be solved immediately, you put a customer first culture at risk.

    4. Shared values

    Core values should be the compass that guides employees in their daily actions. Common ways to interact with colleagues and client, set standards for expected behaviour. The issue is not so much that companies don’t have or communicate values, but more that they fail to link values to individuals’ daily work. Employees should believe in and apply the values in their work every day. They should live the values. Luckily there are powerful tools to help you achieve this.

    5. Praise for performance

    One of the most powerful influencers of human behaviour is recognition. All employees should be both held accountable for and receive praise for their efforts and results in supporting the company goals. All performance, reward and recognition management practices should be aligned with the values and the desired culture.

    Unfortunately, almost all research indicates that employees do not receive enough ongoing feedback, do not receive enough aligned incentives and do not receive enough recognition for their work.

    To change culture, you must pull the right levers within these five drivers.

    The best way to approach any culture transformation project is to assess all cultural drivers in your company and ensure the alignment of message they send to employees.

    How do YOU use the culture drivers to accelerate culture change? Drop me a line at and I’ll be happy to share some further insights.

    Koen Schreurs
    Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    How to create a culture that performs

    how to create a culture that performs

    I recently came across the results of the 2017 study on organizational culture by Gartner. They researched how best to create a company culture that performs and drives ongoing business performance. It was an interesting read and I’d like to share the highlights with you.

    Gartner found that only 31% of HR leaders agree their organizations have the necessary culture to drive future business performance. Despite the fact that 80% of organizations currently actively manage culture.

    Three key gaps around company culture

    Their analysis revealed companies face three issues when trying to get employees to demonstrate the needed culture.

    1. Knowledge gap: employees lack awareness of the culture the organization needs (69% of organizations)
    2. Mind-set gap: employees do not believe in the culture the organization needs or don’t believe culture matters (87% of organizations)
    3. Behaviour gap: employees do not engage in behaviours related to the culture the organization needs (90% of organizations)

    They also found that closing one gap does not close all three. Only improving all three simultaneously had impact. Which is logical because you want employees to know it, believe it and do it!

    Three common challenges

    Gartner found the combination of knowledge, mind-set and behaviour to be powerful. Organizations with alignment between these factors achieve higher performance against revenue goals and hiring/retention targets, increased employee performance, and more positive public reputations.

    A further analysis revealed three common challenges, each of which affects knowledge, mind-set, and behaviour:

    1. Few organizations really understand their culture.
    2. Leaders aren’t driving the culture.
    3. Employees can’t operationalize the culture.

    To understand culture, use an employee-led diagnosis

    Typically companies do a periodic – often yearly or once every two years – survey on culture satisfaction and HR or business leader interpretation. But this approach falls short due to a too narrow focus on satisfaction, outdated information and easily misinterpreted data.

    To address these limitations, the best organizations are shifting to employee-led culture diagnosis by monitoring how employees experience the culture and involving employees directly in interpreting culture input.

    One organization shared that they moved from measuring culture once a year to asking employees daily culture questions as they logged into their workstations. The results are available to managers in real time as long as four people on their teams participate on a given day. Leaders then have the autonomy to decide how they will use the daily feedback, but based on Gartner’s research, they will now consider empowering employees to be the ones who take action.

    Make leaders drive culture by role modeling

    The research identified three key elements of effective leader role modeling:

    1. Say: what leaders communicate about culture (1% impact)
    2. Behave: how leaders personally demonstrate the culture (5% impact)
    3. Operate: how leaders manage business operations (e.g., budgets, processes, policies) in line with the culture (18% impact)

    The addition of the “operate” element, which goes beyond simply focusing on what leaders say and do, reveals why so few organizations see desired results from their investments in leader role modeling.

    78% of organizations rely on leader role modeling as a key component of their culture strategies

    Equip employees to apply culture in their day-to-day work

    Finally, organizations must help employees operationalize the culture day to day. We know organizations invest in a high volume and variety of culture communication, but that investment has failed to remove two employee-cited barriers to living the culture day to day:

    1. Translation barrier: employees struggle to translate the culture into the specific context of their day-to-day role.
    2. Tensions barrier: employees frequently encounter cultural tensions they don’t know how to address.

    Unsurprisingly, the number of employees who struggle with each of these barriers increases significantly as you move deeper into lower levels of organizations. If communication efforts haven’t addressed these challenges, what will?

    The best organizations remove the translation barrier by moving ownership of context-specific
    translation to employees themselves. An ideal way to accomplish this is to use a peer recognition system that empowers all employees to share examples of how to live the values and show appreciation for doing so.

    Removing the tensions barrier does not necessarily mean removing tensions but rather ensuring employees are equipped to manage tensions they encounter in their work. Organizations can ensure employees are equipped to do so by providing training. This way you can help employees deal with a typical tension like for instance between quality and speed of work.

    Do you want more tips on how to make your culture transformation succeed? Then be sure to read Culture transformation: 11 Lessons learned from 11 top consultancies.

    Koen Schreurs
    Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement