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Why culture eats strategy for breakfast – and what it means for employees


 — November 26th, 2020

Why culture eats strategy for breakfast – and what it means for employees

Eight months on and a second national lockdown has swept across much of Europe and the UK.

Whether this means another big change or the prospect of carrying on as you are, no doubt many people will be experiencing feelings of uncertainty, stress, and for some, even greater feelings of isolation

For your employees, without a clearly embedded purpose and values, you’ll be missing out on the opportunity to engage the passion and interest of your people in your survival plan – which means that strategy won’t happen.

A well-defined, inclusive, and positive culture is the glue that holds your organization together. And if there was ever a time that employees are turning to their culture to provide them with meaning and certainty, then it is now!

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At McCann Synergy, we believe there are 5 principles to creating a high performing culture:

1) Psychological safety

2) Leadership communication

3) Values-driven, purpose-led

4) Managers matter

5) Automatic processes

Safety comes first

It’s no secret that building a culture of psychological safety is the number one way to drive inclusion, innovation, and engagement. This is where team members can share ideas and information and be open about mistakes, concerns, or needing help, without fear of criticism.

Some research suggests that as little as 1% of people feel extremely confident voicing concerns at crucial moments. Think about mergers, managers, redundancies, calls, or chats on Teams – how are you building safety or fostering exclusion?

It’s worth noting that teams with high psychological safety actually argue more, not less. When people feel they can speak up, be heard, and make progress, they become more open-minded and motivated, and that’s when innovation thrives.

Leadership narratives

Culture lives through stories; it’s how we’ve evolved. Leaders who get communication right inspire action. We’ve seen some great and terrible examples of leadership communication over the last eight months.

One of our favorite examples (if you haven’t seen it already) is Brian Chesky from Airbnb who’s really a shining example to us all. What’s great is his unreserved sense of humanity. The message really does have it all: honesty, openness, vulnerability, purpose, action, and recognition.

Values-driven, purpose-led

Your values should be engrained into your culture, they are the heart of the ‘how’ you do things and that includes your leadership behavior. Gallup tells us that a values-driven culture is better prepared in a crisis and your values (how) must relate to your purpose (why) so make sure your organization’s purpose is one that you don’t just talk about but you embed into work every-day.

Unilever and Morrisons have been highly credited for putting people before profit (see this handy resource didtheyhelp.com). Put simply, you need to do more than treat colleagues equally and respectfully, you must tie their tasks to the impact they are having on the organization and society as a whole.

Managers matter

A recent Harvard business review paper found that 40% of supervisors and managers said they had low self-confidence in their ability to manage their remote teams. The importance of managers when it comes to building a great culture with resilient teams within a remote setting cannot be underestimated.

We’ve been supporting many clients with manager guides, events, nudge strategies, masterclasses, and coaching to help them support their teams better.

Automatic processes

Being flexible and adapting quickly has never been so important and with risk in mind, bureaucracy can be catastrophic to your business, eating away at your peoples’ engagement and therefore your culture. Bring your Operations Director into your culture conversations and take a good hard look at your processes, now is the time to change.

So how can you spot a toxic culture and is yours in crisis?

Take a look at our six steps to success:

  1. Listen with compassion

An important first step to correcting a toxic workplace is by reducing fear and passivity. Listening with compassion means really listening to your people and it can feature across all your channels (virtual meetings, 1-2-1s, in surveys, town halls).

  1. Increase relatedness and build trust

Create situations, contexts or atmosphere that encourage openness and honesty, building a sense of belonging where teams can learn about one another.

  1. Establish and communicate clear short-term goals for individuals

If you’ve listened and built trust, you can set short term goals that are aligned with team and organizational goals. That link to purpose strengthens that sense of being needed, not just wanted.

  1. Provide feedback

We’re hard-wired to respond to feedback – take Netflix’s culture as an example. It’s also how people learn, and it builds honesty and openness.

  1. Share the plan of action

Provide context on decisions and timelines around organizational change so that everyone knows what the plan is and feels part of it.

  1. Recognize colleagues

Make sure you publicly and privately celebrate team and individual successes. Include a wide range of colleagues and consider how their behaviors tie back to your values and purpose.

For more information on creating and implementing a great culture go to mccannsenergy.com

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