Purpose, vision, mission, values, values statements, behaviour statements, commitments, standards, tribes, principles, squads, neighbourhoods … workplaces are full of well-meaning cultural elements that are intended to create a sense of connection and belonging amongst staff and create the conditions for continual success.
But how much is too much? It’s a question I’m often asked as many employees are confused about the internal messaging around culture and the expectations around ‘consistency of approach’.
I deliberately use the term ‘well meaning’ at the start as I like to believe that senior leaders recognise the importance of culture and want to create the foundations for success. That said, meaning only becomes performance through practical application and that’s where organisations are found wanting.
The short answer to the blog headline is ‘yes’ — too much culture ‘stuff’ is a bad thing. However, the full answer is a little more nuanced.
When researching my book Culture Fix, I found that continually high performing organisations with low attrition rates and high engagement scores were those that had taken the time to define their purpose/vision and had created a set of values.
Whenever I start working with new clients these are the elements that we address first. Does the purpose describe how the organisation wishes to be seen? Is the vision achievable, easy to remember and does the strategy outline how you’ll get there? And, have the values been created by employees and do they summarise the kind of organisation that they wish to become (aligned to the purpose and vision)?
All too often, these exercises are undertaken to ‘tick boxes’ or as marketing exercises rather than being seen as meaningful pillars of culture. Having a purpose, vision and values is only ever as good as the action taken to bring them all to life.
A purpose is used to influence brand messaging, a vision is used daily as a basis for decision-making, whilst values are used to hire people who believe the same things and who want to work with others to contribute to the success of the organisation.
To avoid confusing employees, leaders and HR departments need to ensure that these pillars are defined, but not go into the detail of how they are actually applied. An overly prescriptive culture leaves managers with no work to do and can lead to confusion, disengagement and therefore, an erosion of the belonging that they’re looking to create.
When managers are told what the culture is, they will simply wait for others to take action rather than taking accountability for defining what it means for their own team to live these pillars day-to-day.
Ownership and definition of culture requires that managers are provided with the skills to turn good intention into good action. In a webinar that I ran last week, over half of the attendees said that this was an area that required further development, which goes some way to explaining why organisations feel they have to produce thousands of words to describe something that they expect managers to uphold.
By shifting the focus to providing managers with the skills to define how purpose, vision and values will be lived within their own teams, then not only will organisations create cultural ownership across the organisation, they will also remove the risk of silos and create the conditions for success.
Anything else could lead to culture confusion, which will always be a barrier to belonging and, ultimately, performance. And that is a very bad thing.