Mini-documentary: Company culture is not what employees think — its what they do

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Corporate culture, brand purpose and employee behaviours are intrinsically linked. But without measuring behaviours, there is no clear indication of whether the corporate culture is helping or hindering an organisation in achieving its purpose.

Digital Nation spoke to Ken Boundy, non-executive director of listed Australian Bauxite, Stephen Besci CEO of aged care provider Apollo Care, Annabelle Daniel, CEO of Women’s Community Shelters and Shelley Cable, CEO of the Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One.

According to Becsi, organisations are incorrectly attesting what employees think, by conducting staff engagement surveys, with company culture. He says it is the way they behave that is the true indicator.

“CEOs and executives give lip service to this thing called culture. They don't understand what it is, they don't understand the power of it,” says Becsi.

“Culture is actually the demonstration of real behaviours that are directly linked to the purpose and KPIs. Holding people accountable for behaviours, it's not done. It's not understood, and therefore, I think organisations are not getting the very best value out of their workforce.”

According to Boundy, despite the Hayne Royal Commission into the financial services industry, targeting culture as the subject of much criticism, many boards and executives teams still think that culture is a secondary consideration for business.

“It's a bit like safety, it starts in the boardroom, and the board have got to own culture. But when the criticisms were made, unfortunately, most companies and executives at board level really were struggling to know what to do,” says Boundy.

“Unfortunately, whether it's in boardrooms or at executive tables, the addressing of values and then through to culture and behaviour is seen as nice to have but not critical. It's got to be flipped,” he says.

For organisations to enable a successful workplace culture, they must first clearly define the key behaviours expected of employees, says Besci. The embodiment of these behaviours can then be tracked by businesses in order to measure the success of the company culture.

“What there needs to be is the identification of no more than four key behaviours that are linked to the purpose and to business KPIs,” Besci says.

“And then once you've identified those behaviours, those critical behaviours, you've then got to have a system in place that allows you to be able to measure the demonstration of those behaviours.”

When organisations get the balance right, and their employee behaviour is aligned to the organisation’s values, both staff and the business can thrive.

According to Boundy, “The companies that get it right have got huge benefit. They've got happier workforces. And they're outperforming economically.”

Daniel asserts that when staff have a clearly defined purpose, and a set of known and expected behaviours, employees are empowered to innovate and advocate for the organisation.

“Staff are empowered to work within boundaries, and to act entrepreneurially and [to develop] solutions. And I think that's incredibly important,” says Daniel.

“Where you create an environment where the leader… feels empowered to do that, then that then has a cascading effect to the staff and the culture, they feel strong in what we're here to do when and that we can try new things.”

Cable believes the articulation of values has been invaluable for Minderoo.

“At Minderoo we have 10 values, which guide absolutely everything that we do…We bring them up when we talk making tough decisions, we go through all of the 10 values and see how they might or might not be reflected by various options that are ahead of us,” she says.

“As leaders our job is to empower others, not to instruct them or direct them, but to empower them and just give advice. And one of the things we talk about is if you're reporting to your manager, you need to go and ask for advice, not permission. So there's some really tangible ways that the values really do permeate across everyday decisions and actions.”

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