Documentation is the backbone of a sustainable company culture, people and culture exec says 

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March 28, 2024
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5 min read
Hub one

Amid the changing global workplace landscape, several companies have been compelled to realign and adapt to widely accepted workplace practices, a situation that called for the constant questioning of a lot of what has hitherto been considered best practices.

This discussion will, however, be incomplete without referring to the pandemic and its pivotal role in the change; it has pushed stakeholders to challenge conventional views about the workplace. This has prompted companies to redefine their "way of life" -- culture.

Depending on who you ask, workplace culture is a multifaceted concept, but at its core, it is the identity of an organisation. It encompasses shared values, beliefs, and attitudes that characterise and influence the behaviours and decisions of the people in the company.

The PwC Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey published in 2023, drawing responses from 53,912 workers across three continents, revealed what C-suite execs and managers must prioritise. Among other pain points, a sub-section of the survey emphasises how company cultures can stifle innovation, with only 35% of respondents admitting their managers tolerate small-scale failures. Meanwhile, half of the respondents strongly and moderately agree that they would gladly accept the opportunity to step up and take on extra responsibilities.

For Chibuzo Ihentuge-Eric, Head of People and Culture at Bankly, workplace culture is a set of rules that defines what is and isn't allowed at a workplace. Its critical nature is established in how it can influence the perception of an organisation, and there are stats affirming that.

PwC Global Culture Survey 2021 revealed that companies with strong cultures not only have a competitive advantage, but are likely to have better business outcomes in revenue, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction.

Meanwhile, this Glassdoor report links company culture to stock performance. It suggests that making it to a "Best Places to Work" list can cause a jump in a company's stock returns.

Regardless, there are several complaints about workers putting up with terrible work cultures, and this can either be blamed on leaders' arrogance, lack of internal communication, unchecked politics, hierarchy, lack of basic human decency, or refusal to adapt.

Inclusivity, innovativeness, and the ability to adapt are factors that make any company's culture stand out. Still, companies experience difficulties in adapting as global workplace dynamics evolve.

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Why culture adaptation is challenging 

From experience, Ihentuge-Eric associates these challenges with three factors:

1. Lack of clear understanding of current culture: Why does the company allow or disallow what is currently available? How does it assess whether the current collective values and norms are desirable or not? Are the underlying reasons behind these behaviours known? It is important to answer these questions before attempting any adaptation. Still, adaptation should be done in agreement with the organisation's goals, unless those also have to be reviewed.

2. Fear of being tagged toxic: The fear of being labelled as a "toxic work environment" can paralyse organisations, preventing them from making necessary cultural changes. As the executive notes, this fear often stems from a dilemma between pleasing employees and achieving the business' objectives.

Addressing the concern of whether fostering a healthy culture should be at the expense of the business' success, leaders should be aware that a supposed positive culture that kills organisational performance and doesn't contribute to its long-term success is toxic to the business and should be reconsidered.

3. Ill-equipped managers: The HR expert highlights that leadership is pivotal to shaping organisational culture. Cultural adaptation efforts thrive when leadership at all levels is effective. When managers lack the appropriate knowledge and skills to communicate and drive culture change in the bottom line, the chances of faltering are high.

Proactive approach to tackling these challenges 

1. Seeking professional help: Where feasible, an organisation may consider engaging consultants who specialise in organisational culture. An external eye should be able to identify blind spots, provide valuable insights, and develop strategies tailored to the company's uniqueness. On the other hand, if the company can afford it, it should hire or appoint a people and culture lead who will push initiatives and efforts and foster continuous improvement.

2. Being actively involved: This is quite overlooked. Management might be oblivious to the prevailing culture propagated among the workers while viewing from their top offices. However, actively participating in certain team activities, attending meetings, and regularly engaging employees will give them firsthand ideas of the dynamics of the culture. Implementing anonymous surveys and feedback channels could also encourage open and honest feedback on how employees perceive cultural adaptation efforts.

3. Empowering managers and team leads: Companies sometimes confine organisational culture discussions to HR, but that means ignoring the role managers play in appropriately translating cultural initiatives to their respective teams in the best way they'll be embraced. On the other hand, these managers should be provided with training and resources before they are engaged.

4. Reward and punish: It is important to establish clear expectations and guidelines and their corresponding outcomes early. This will help avoid being tagged as toxic because people are already aware of what they are getting into. Positive behaviour and contributions should be reinforced while instances of contradicting actions should be promptly addressed.

Crown it with documentation 

Reinforcing an organisation's culture to make it stand the test of time requires documenting stories and anecdotes portraying a company's norms and values.

"One strategy leaders can use [for culture adaptation] is documenting stories. Storytelling is a strategy. Succession causes disruption. Sometimes, you would hire people who didn't meet the previous people and some things get lost in the transition.

"With documentation, you tell people the story of the business, the culture, the phases of culture, and the things that have happened. People can come into your business at any point and pick up anything [they want]. Help them understand the why, where you're coming from, and why certain things are the way they are."

For Ihentuge-Eric, adopting video and audio recordings is an effective move as the content can be shared during onboarding sessions and other communication channels -- this guides new hires and serves as a point of reference for existing employees.

The documentation can also be written and incorporated into the company's website, employee handbooks, and other internal communication platforms.

Company heads need to recognise the essence of long-term preservation of the different phases of organisational cultural changes. Investing in documentation helps create a lasting archive of cultural information such that adaptation is seamlessly achieved.

Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.

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