Can Corporate Company Culture Be Changed?
This week I’m talking to Charlotte Farrell, Transformational Consultant.
Hi Charlotte, and welcome to ‘Make it Thrive.’ Tell us about your experience working in a corporate culture.
Hello Lizzie. I’ve worked in several different corporate cultures, ranging across different sectors over the last decade. I’ve worked in organisational cultures with an inclusive approach to staff, with large amounts of investments into individuals. These businesses tend to have a common purpose which aligns the business’ key objectives, and then I’ve also worked in cultures where there isn’t such an inclusive approach. These businesses tend to have one sole focus, which is profitability and bottom line of the business. Although these tend to reach their financial objectives, they do tend to have a higher turnover of staff, lack of loyalty and what I call a ‘waiting for pay day workforce.’
I always find ultimately the culture determines how work gets done, and having a positive culture is never detrimental to a business.
"Corporate culture is changing. But it's changing slowly."
Obviously you’ve mentioned about the different types of cultures. Where do you think these stem from?
I think fundamentally a culture is determined based on behaviours of the people. So in my experience, this starts at the top of the chain, ie Board members, senior managers. So their decisions and behaviours are then filtered down into the workforce and that creates an environment – so whether that be positive or negative.
Absolutely. I know you mentioned there obviously it starts from the top, which is something that I always discuss with a lot of companies. You have to have an engaged team leader. You have to have the leadership on board before you do any kind of culture change and I think sometimes it’s really hard to find those organisations who are open minded to culture change because there’s sometimes that almost resistance to change – that they’ve done things for a certain period of time and perhaps they’re almost stuck in their ways. Do you think, especially a toxic culture, can be changed?
My answer’s kind of yes and no. I think yes, you can if you catch it quick. I’ve worked in businesses that have such deep rooted toxic cultures that unfortunately I don’t think that they can get out of them, but I think if you catch it quick…
Toxic culture can be caused by literally one negative employee. The importance of having a people manager, HR departments are fundamental to ensure there’s nothing damaging happening to the culture. So yeah, I think you can change it.
Employees have what’s called a ‘psychological contract’ with the business they work in. So it’s not a written agreement, but it’s a perception for each individual in their own mind on how the business operates. This is based on their experience and how they view other employees being treated. For instance, if a colleague is praised for a piece of work and is rewarded, for instance, with a weekend away, another employee will work hard to try and achieve that same reward. However, this also works the other way round, so if a staff member is treated unfairly for a minor mistake, this can cause what’s known as a ‘fear culture’ and employees then tend to worry that may experience the same treatment.
"Fundamentally the culture is determined by the people."
Do you feel the importance of company culture is only adopted by particular sectors? For example, I work quite heavily within creative industries, tech companies and advertising agencies: people that I suppose are quite forward thinking with their culture maybe because they’re because run by millennials- I don’t know! But do you think that there’s any particular sectors that are resistant to culture change or is there any particular cultures that you think excel within sectors?
Yeah, I think from my experience some sectors do it better than others, absolutely. Like you say, creative. The creative environments I have been in have always been ones that champion the social budgets, having large Christmas parties, organising breakfast for people in the mornings. Yeah, I do think creative businesses do that better.
I think that financial businesses that I’ve worked in tend to be a little bit more old hat. You look at companies like Google. They’ve just scrapped KPIs. Virgin, for instance, they don’t have holiday policies. These companies are leading that vision for the future and I think if companies do not follow their lead, they are going to struggle, especially with the millennials because the millennials, in my experience, are not about the pay cheque. They are about the flexibility. They’re about being about being to work from home one day a week. They want opportunities. They want to learn. They want to be able to exercise in their working week. So I think if modern day businesses are not keeping up with that, they’re going to struggle.