Career

5 myths about corporate culture

Productivity expert Cholena Orr is taking aim at outdated notions about corporate culture.

When Cholena Orr, director of pac executive’s human capital business, walks into the reception area of a workplace, she can tell you not only about that company’s culture but also what kind of leader it has.

Attentive and organised reception staff suggest a leader paying attention to investing in people, she says.

Conversely, “if I walk into a disorganised waiting room with a rude receptionist, I will go on to meet a company CEO who doesn’t see people as their most important asset, and who doesn’t believe in training.”

Orr adds, “Many leaders simply don’t recognise just how much influence they have over their company’s culture. Nor do they understand what culture is.”
That, she says, prevents them from developing good approaches to creating and transforming cultures.

Orr believes leaders shape culture and culture affects everything, from innovation to recruiting and talent retention. When CEOs don’t create culture, the culture will create itself, she says, and it’s usually not what they had envisioned.

Calling on business leaders to stop believing in common misconceptions, Orr unpacks her top five persistent myths about corporate culture.

Culture is the equivalent of perks
The most prevailing misconception among business leaders is that corporate culture is built much like a Disneyland theme park, where perks and “fun” are all that’s needed for employees to work and live happily ever after.

Perks are fine if they directly align with a company’s key objectives or promote certain behaviours a company wishes to cultivate. However, so often there is a disconnect between what employees really want and what companies deliver – the vending machines, the massages or the treadmill desks.

Find out what truly motivates employees, she says, and match incentives accordingly.

Culture is a “mood”
If you ask seven different CEOs to define culture, you will receive seven different answers. Some will say culture is a “mood”, others describe it as the shared values of a company’s employees.

Culture is not just the “vibe” you get when you walk into an office, nor is it the mission statement plastered on the wall. Culture is how work gets done, says Orr. It shows up in the patterns, rituals and repeated behaviours of the people in the organisation.

Culture is someone else’s problem
CEOs often believe culture belongs to someone else. While it’s true that culture is essentially “owned” by everyone, it’s the CEO who most strongly impacts and shapes culture.

Why? The best predictors of behaviour are incentives, whether they are monetary incentives or status and advancement, and these incentives are all a result of the values and beliefs of the company’s CEO.

You can’t hire for great culture
Actually you can and you should. When companies do hire the right people, they are essentially building an assemblage of “cultural ambassadors” who love the company they work for, stay happy and engaged and ultimately make greater contributions to the company’s success.

When recruiting for culture, Orr believes the highest risk is to hire people who aren’t motivated to do the job they need to do. The second risk is that they don’t have the personal characteristics to work well with customers and colleagues. The third risk is that they don’t have the necessary skills or experience. The latter is often considered number one.

To hire for culture, you need to invest more time in screening for character and motivation than screening for skill and experience.

Investing in culture is a waste of money
A company that doesn’t invest in training or people fosters a dog-eat-dog culture that sets workers up to fail. Companies that do invest in culture tend to perform better, notes Orr.

Job satisfaction is one reason why, with research from Columbia University showing that 48.4 per cent of employees working within a poor culture were “very likely” to leave their job, compared with only 13.9 per cent of employees working within a positive workplace culture.

The best place to start investing your culture budget is in leadership training – from the C-suite down to frontline leaders – to ensure they’re equipped to provide a good employee experience.

A version of this story appeared on In The Black.

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