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Home First Months Corporate Culture The danger to company culture that lurks beneath the waterline

The danger to company culture that lurks beneath the waterline

Helene Vermaak
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Leaders tend to focus on obvious issues and often fail to account for the underlying ones that cause irreparable damage. Strategy sits above the waterline and everyone in an organisation is aware of it. However, it is what lurks beneath the waterline that should be concerning management as this informs the company’s culture.

Leaders tend to focus on obvious issues and often fail to account for the underlying ones that cause irreparable damage. Strategy sits above the waterline and everyone in an organisation is aware of it. However, it is what lurks beneath the waterline that should be concerning management as this informs the company's culture.

Ultimately an organisation's capacity to perform is a function of individual human behaviour and it is the invisible challenges related to this that need to be addressed. Strategy, integrated processes and operating models are clearly defined and leaders tend to spend significant time communicating these elements and implementing scorecards to ensure the employees adhere to issues to ensure a uniform company culture. It is not wrong to focus on visible perils but it is important that an equal amount of time is taken to focus on the elements that aren't.

The challenge that is often avoided by leaders is strategically and systematically influencing the behaviour of employees. Behavioural challenges can hinder an organisation's progress yet many leaders do not focus on this as they lack the visibility of looming behavioural threats and the skills to respond quickly and effectively. Leaders need to be able to scan below the surface, assess threats to the company's internal capacity and develop strategies to build confident, engaged employees.

Research has shown that companies that address this challenge will reap many benefits. In times of crisis or economic difficulty, reacting quickly to visible threats may help a company survive but for the corporate culture to thrive, they will need to address the problems below the surface. To address the company culture and the elements below the waterline, you need to follow the below three steps:

  • Scan below the surface – Capture the current employee experience. We apply a programme that will collect stories from employees at all levels on incidents where things have gone wrong, as well as have senior leaders conduct structured interviews with a spectrum of employees to gain insights as to what is happening on the shop floor. This combined scanning approach yields rich data and exposes leaders to the often unseen challenges faced by employees. This engages them more profoundly in the need to step up to the influence challenge.
  • Search for vital behaviours – Identify a few vital behaviours that can have the most impact on these challenges in your corporate culture. Identifying the right vital behaviours will stop self-defeating and escalating behaviours and instead start a chain reaction that leads to good results.
  • Design a powerful influence strategy – The right influence strategy can demonstrate meaningful results in as soon as three to six months.

Helene Vermaak is a director and business owner of The Human Edge.


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