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Define Your Company Culture and Drive Success


Employees happy at work
Image: Aleksandr Davydov - Alamy Stock Photo
The recently released research report Gallup's Approach to Culture: Building a Culture That Drives Performance analyzes Gallup’s research to identify the business benefits of organizational culture, single out the five traits of an organizational culture, and make the case that traditional culture surveys can’t make the connection between a distinctive culture and business outcomes.
WorkSpace Connect interviewed Vibhas Ratanjee, senior practice expert, leadership and organizational development at Gallup, to discuss how workplace leaders can levy a distinctive organizational culture to boost business outcomes. He also defines what makes an aspect of company culture functional and how leaders can identify the functional elements of their organizational culture.
Responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Workplace culture affects employee performance. How can workplace leaders bridge the connection between a distinctive culture and business outcomes?
VB: A distinctive culture is hard to define. Gallup defines culture as how things get done in an organization. Culture is also unique to a company. Culture is characterized by a company's purpose and lived through its values. Therefore, a personal connection to values is critical.
Unfortunately, many organizations cannot make that deep connection to culture. In a Q1 2022 survey Gallup did in the U.S., only two in 10 employees said they feel connected to their organization's culture. What’s perhaps alarming is that this level of cultural resonance is the lowest at the level of individual contributors. There’s a 22-point difference in connection to culture between leaders and individual contributors.
Leaders must ensure they grasp their organizations' on-the-ground, 'lived' culture. That requires them to go deeper, observe and review the specific cultural traits that make their organizations unique—and not just rely on what they see at the upper echelons of management. Knowing so will help leaders connect positive drivers of culture to business outcomes through personal connection, ownership, and commitment
The report says, "senior leaders often struggle to identify and leverage the functional aspects of their organization's culture." What makes an aspect of company culture functional? How can leaders identify the functional elements of their organizational culture?
VB: Culture can be particular to an organization yet very vaguely or poorly defined. Sometimes organizations might use artifacts, symbols, or rituals to define culture. Or sometimes express their culture through words—like a 'warrior culture' or a 'caring culture' or a 'culture of excellence.' Sometimes these are definitions of aspirational culture—but in nearly all organizations, a gap exists between what leaders say their organization's values and culture are and what they are, according to employees.
These culture-based, expected behaviors are the functional definition of culture. It doesn't mean they become conformance standards with which all employees must comply. A functional, behavior-based definition of culture is more effective. A case in point is the Ritz Carlton Hotels, which have a set of 12 service values that embody the company's culture—and the specific ways in which they drive performance.
[Gallup has] found that defining culture requires outlining cultural behaviors and expectations in specific ways and then helping drive the adoption of these behaviors, recognizing those who live these values and behaviors, and, over time, measuring the impact of these functional drivers.
How can leaders correctly identify, measure, and regularly monitor their organization's culture and its relationship to its most important performance metrics?
VB: I think the first step is to conduct what we call a 'culture audit.' This audit is a comprehensive review of how your culture is lived on a daily basis and at every level of the organization. Think of the audit as identifying the cultural DNA of an organization—positive, neutral, or negative.
How employees interact with each other—and with those outside the organization (customers, partners, vendors, or the larger public) is a great way to understand the culture. This interaction could be a qualitative review through focus groups or quantitative surveys, but also through direct observations—for example, how culture gets represented through customer interactions or how it manifests in how employees interact with each other, communicate, and make decisions. You are likely to see how transparent leaders or managers are, and where there are likely to be information blockages. This comprehensive, multi-faceted view is essential to get an accurate picture of your organization's culture.
Conducting regular engagement surveys and equipping managers to have conversations with their team members is a great way of ensuring that the focus on culture and organizational outcomes are consistently maintained.
What monitoring and accountability metrics are the most effective for establishing accountability and making consistent progress?
VB: A key metric to understand the impact of culture would be to know how strongly employees feel connected to organizational culture. This metric can help leaders understand where that connection is strong or weak. Understanding manager’s and leaders commitment to organizational values is another area to act upon and understand.
You can further understand the functional aspect of culture through employee engagement surveys or by measuring the agreement on whether your company consistently meets specific behaviors and cultural expectations.
Blue-sky time: What organizational culture traits should workplace leaders try to cultivate for a forward-looking organization?
VB: Gallup recently conducted a study to understand critical competencies that can help leaders drive performance. These seven competencies can be cultivated to build a high-performance culture in forward-looking, future-fluent organizations.
  • The ability to build relationships that establish connections that transmit ideas and accomplish work
  • A drive for development that focuses on followers' needs, expectations, and aspirations
  • Comfort with leading change in organizational strategy and alignment with the vision
  • The capacity to inspire others by encouraging their efforts and celebrating success
  • Critical thinking that seeks information openly invites dissent and stimulates debate where needed
  • Communication skills that result in clear, open, and transparent dialogue that empowers trust
  • A need for accountability to hold yourself and others responsible for the performance
Leaders who commit to practicing those competencies can foster a culture of high performance.
Editor's note: This article was initially published on our sister site WorkSpace Connect