Culture = Values + Policy: Creating real meaning in your organisation

By Shane Allison, Account Director

A whole industry has sprung up around ‘organisational culture,’ spreading the myth that companies and their leaders can directly influence their organization’s culture to increase employee engagement, reduce turnover and improve their bottom line.

The reality is that most leaders can’t do much to directly influence their culture. With few exceptions, the culture that is discussed around boardroom tables is the creation of thousands of employee interactions, public-facing decisions from the company and the accumulation of the hundreds of decades of lived experience of your employees.

As a result of this lived experience, your employees will enter your firm with strong beliefs about the way the world works – while these change over time with the accumulation of lived experience, it’s far beyond the remit of any leader to attempt to directly influence these and their contribution to your company’s culture.

But what you can do is shape and share your company’s values, which are one of the two foundational elements of your company’s culture. You’ll find them all around you – they lie in the stories which you and your employees share over Friday drinks, the tales of past projects which are shared with every new starter and the speech you gave at the last company retreat.

Values are the result of times where you made decisions that said – “this is the way we do things around here – not that.”

They are the result of hundreds of identity conferring commitments – where you and your employees made decisions that said – “this is the way we do things around here – not that.” They provide the ethical and moral framework for your employees to make the decisions which shape the future of your company.

But your values aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if you don’t have policies in place which support them – and their propagation. If one of your values is gender equality, yet your policies penalise women who work part-time to care for a child, your culture will reflect this dichotomy.

Nailing the interaction between these values and your company’s policies is crucial – without this alignment you will struggle to create meaning for your company’s employees – let alone indirectly be able to create a lasting positive culture.

So stop running around trying to define your company’s culture, stop mapping out the ‘hot spots’ or influencers who are going to enact change. Go back to your roots. Define your values. Share them through stories – and make sure your policies aren’t taking you two steps back for every step forward.

So start by sharing now – what are the identity conferring commitments your business has made? Are there any that you’ve witnessed that have stuck with you?