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Working on company culture: keep it simple

“Many organisations make working on company culture into something very big. Result: little is achieved, and what little is achieved tends to be over the long-term only. So what’s the answer? Give up? Certainly not! Start thinking in small steps instead. In our experience, setting structured, short-term goals delivers better results, faster. It’s the classic ‘keep it simple’.”

Sascha Becker, head of strategy at PROOF.

Everything starts with insight

Every organisation wants an aligned workforce, one in which employees are not only engaged, but through this sense of engagement actively contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s strategy. But working on alignment is a long-term project that depends on achieving mutual agreement – between employer and employee – about what the desired workplace culture is or should be.

The first step is to determine whether you, as an employer, are in a position to foster the desired organisational culture. This begins with having a good insight into why your employees work for you in the first place.

Researchers into motivation date back into the 1980s, when Edward Deci and Richard Ryan studied why people work. They identified to types of motivation: direct and indirect.

They argued that there are three direct motives for working:
• Play: you work because you enjoy it. Your work keeps you curious, you dare to experiment and you enjoy challenges.
• Purpose: your work is in line with who you are as a person. You work because you value what you achieve by doing your job.
• Potential: your work adds to who you want to be as a person. It adds to your potential.

The three indirect motives they identified are:
• Emotional pressure: you work because you don’t want to let yourself and others down.
• Economic pressure: you work solely because you need to earn money.
• Inertia: you work because you are used to it. You can’t even explain why you started it in the first place, but it has become a habit.

The indirect motives can get in the way of your work performance. When people ignore their intrinsic motivations, external factors take over and can influence their work success. This is why organisations that succeed in creating an environment in which employees want to contribute are also those that invest heavily in direct motivation. They’re the companies that are famed for their great culture.

This is in line with author Daniel Pink’s theory, which discusses purpose, mastery and autonomy. Pink describes autonomy as our desire to be self directed; to have the power to make our own decisions. Mastery is the urge to constantly improve and gain better skills, as improvement gives a sense of satisfaction. Purpose describes the context of autonomy and mastery. It is the desire to do something that has meaning; the reason why people get out of bed in the morning. Motivated people want to achieve a goal that is greater than they are. Motivated people are more productive, and above all, happier.

Determine the most important factors that influence your company culture

So how, as an organisation, do you get to this happy place? First, understand that there are many factors that may influence organisational culture. These are the three we believe are most influential.
• Interpretation of your role – the clarity of this role and the freedom you get to fulfil it as you see fit.
• Identity – this is not just about the organisation’s mission, vision and strategy; identity is shaped by proof and evidence. Our tip: make the efforts people make at work visible for others to see.
• Career ladder – development that suits an employee and contributes to his or her potential. Here it’s important that this career development is not driven by competition, either within or outside of the organisation, as this is likely to lead to negative motives, such as emotional economic pressure, that are bad for the organisational culture.

Many organisations view working on company culture as something big. A major project requiring major strides. But our experience is that the effects are much larger when an organisation advocates small steps – based on its employees’ direct and indirect motives – while also taking into consideration the most important factors that influence their specific culture. Setting clear goals, and meeting these goals within a short timeframe, leads to early results.

Changing a culture is often a matter of changing habits and patterns. Start by setting clear, concrete and realistic goals, and ensure employees know how to contribute. And that their contribution matters.

Keep it simple.

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