In this #metoo, #timesup era, of activist CEOs, and a bright, young workforce that seeks employment with ethical companies that focus on a greater purpose than profit, corporate culture is more important – and at risk – than ever before.
“Culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways,” write the authors of a compelling article in the January-February 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review. “Culture can also evolve flexibly and autonomously in response to changing opportunities and demands. Whereas strategy is typically determined by the C-suite, culture can fluidly blend the intentions of top leaders with the knowledge and experiences of frontline employees.”
The number one job of the corporate communicator is to serve as a bridge between the C-suite that sets strategy and the various stakeholders that contribute to the company’s culture, beginning with employees. The most crucial aspect of any culture is its language. That means it is incumbent on business communicators to employ words and construct narratives that resonate with the reality of what it is like to be a human being working in a particular organization, to be a part of its corporate culture. This is how we can influence the evolution of corporate culture.
The convergence of my culture and corporate culture
Most individuals think of culture as the shared beliefs and traits of any group of people, such as their families, ethnic community or hometowns. Culture encompasses the things we eat, the way we dress and how we speak.
Considering that most people spend 40 hours a week in their workplace, it’s obvious that a huge chunk of an individual’s culture is wrapped up in the culture of the organization for which he or she works. People bring their cultures to the job, and the job imposes a cultural norm on people.
Corporate culture, then, is a combination of the culture employees bring with them and the beliefs, values and traits that the company attempts to impart to its employees. “When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive,” write the HBR authors.
Driving that alignment is the business communicator’s goal – to express a vision of your corporate culture that is at once aspirational and believable; and to use language to steer it as a positive force for good.
The issues that matter to employees are the issues that shape corporate culture. Companies that acknowledge and act on the momentum of this influence ensure their corporate culture evolves and thrives. Those that don’t put their organizations at risk. As business guru Peter Drucker famously once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
So what are the issues that matter right now? Even a cursory environmental scan provides the answers. People care about personal safety; access to opportunity; equal pay for equal work; diversity and inclusion; and purpose.
Let’s take a look at just one of those factors: diversity and inclusion. According to a recent study by Deloitte, 69 percent of executives rate diversity and inclusion as an important issue, which is up from 59 percent in 2014. Similarly, research also indicates that 66 percent of all respondents from the United States rate diversity and inclusion as important or very important. An article by Deloitte shows that the younger workforce sees diversity and inclusion as a central part of corporate culture. Diversity and inclusion go hand-in-hand with corporate culture — a resilient culture provides a voice and equal opportunity to all employees.
And yet, a study by the World Economic Forum estimates it will take 217 years to end disparities in pay and employment opportunities for women in comparison to their male counterparts. Another study by the American Association of University Women shows the extremely limited opportunities that minorities have in the private sector. When looking at the percentage of senior-level executives in the private sector, just 1.3 percent are Hispanic women, 1.5 percent are black women, 2.6 percent are Hispanic men, and 1.6 percent are black men.
People care about being treated fairly. Employees want to know they are contributing their talents to a company that operates with integrity toward all their stakeholders, employees, customers and suppliers. Your team members want assurance that they have a fair chance at achieving success in the organization. Does your corporate culture convey that message?
Communicating corporate culture
Companies have a massive opportunity to evolve their corporate cultures by involving their people – and their professional communicators. Many companies have developed formal channels for the exchange of ideas and expansion of understanding by establishing employee resource groups and affinity organizations. Communicators have promoted their activities and reported on their accomplishments. These efforts are a great beginning, however, they are not enough.
Actions and intentions and success stories must be woven into the fabric of an organization’s corporate culture, using an integrated, pervasive approach. For example, instead of presenting Diversity & Inclusion as stand-alone initiatives and events, show D&I in action by profiling the work of diverse employees in their jobs. Invite a variety of front-line employees to present their accomplishments at quarterly business meetings. Amend company policies to promote inclusivity. In order for real traction to take hold, diversity and inclusion must become part of business as usual.
Communicators can help make it happen. With our access to leaders and our strong relationships with employees, we are in the unique position of building a corporate culture that supports strategy, purpose and diversity.
The most important aspect of evolving your corporate culture is admitting your company has room to grow. Not sure how to get started? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.