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Workplace
How to Steer a Drifting Culture
Workplace

How to Steer a Drifting Culture

by Rohit Kar, Allan Watkinson and Bailey Nelson

Story Highlights

  • Leaders need to be aware of seemingly minor culture shifts
  • Culture drift isn't always harmful, if addressed properly
  • Three lessons help leaders intentionally take charge of culture drift

In recent years, definitions of work culture -- "how we do things around here" -- have changed tremendously. Many aspects (e.g., processes, technology, workflows, training) are morphing as leaders adapt to global pressures and new employee expectations.

Some shifts are obvious, such as dramatic changes in where employees work. However, most culture change is subtle, slow and difficult to define. For example, culture change might manifest as:

  • differences in onboarding experiences and how new hires form relationships
  • shifts in team structures and workflows due to external pressures, such as supply chain concerns
  • new communication norms aimed at keeping hybrid employees connected

Culture drift may seem inconsequential. But when your culture shifts, so do the messages you convey to employees and job candidates about what matters most to your organization. Even gradual evolution can lead to significant changes in your employee, customer and shareholder experiences. In the end, minor culture drift can influence global stakeholders' confidence in how well your organization keeps its promises.

Even gradual evolution can lead to significant changes in your employee, customer and shareholder experiences. In the end, minor culture drift can influence global stakeholders' confidence in how well your organization keeps its promises.

Taking charge of culture drift is essential to your organization's long-term success -- a great culture attracts world-class talent and focuses and engages employees. When employees are on the same page as leaders, they can meet behavioral expectations and deliver customer experiences that set your organization apart from the competition.

Ask yourself: How much alignment do you want among employees and managers? Is your culture on par with talent-magnet workplaces? Or succumbing to drift? If you want exceptional alignment -- where employees not only understand your vision, but also align their behavior with that vision -- you must make culture a long-term priority.

It's no surprise, then, that culture is a top concern among CHROs Gallup surveyed in 2021.

The question isn't if your culture has drifted, but where and how. It's up to leaders to determine which shifts are beneficial and which are detrimental.

How to Refine Your Culture

To avoid flying blind, leaders need to address several questions:

  • What are the subtle, unseen changes in how your organization "gets things done"?
  • How has that drift affected employees,' customers' and job candidates' perceptions about what matters most to your organization?
  • What employee behaviors and brand promises does your culture promote?
  • How is culture drift influencing your competitiveness in the market, such as your employee value proposition (EVP) and customer brand?

Gallup has been studying culture transformation for decades. Our analytics and advice have helped leaders globally measure their culture, define their ideal state and achieve their culture goals.

The question isn't if your culture has drifted, but where and how. It's up to leaders to determine which shifts are beneficial and which are detrimental.

As culture experts at Gallup, we've learned three lessons that can help leaders take charge of culture drift and intentionally direct their culture's future:

  1. Be authentic to who you are. In our experience working with clients, leaders are often tempted to fit their culture into a predefined box. In reality, every culture is a complex mix of attitudes, values, beliefs and ways of working: No two workplace cultures are identical. So, leaders should measure the strengths and weaknesses of their one-of-a-kind culture to determine the aspirations that are most fundamental and valuable to their organization.

    For example, customer centricity is a common ideal. But there are many ways to achieve customer centricity depending on your organization's industry, market segment, primary service and more. Generic approaches to culture will promote generic change. But a tailored approach helps leaders achieve a differentiated culture and an inimitable customer proposition.
  2. Don't see culture as a stand-alone initiative. Time and again, we've found that the best leaders consider their purpose and brand when designing their culture. When leaders embed a strong purpose in their work culture, they make that purpose central to how work gets done -- not just inspiring words.

    And because culture determines your brand and how your business is known to the world, leaders need to shape their culture in a way that promotes their aspired brand promises.

    When leaders understand that purpose, brand and culture are interdependent, they can harmonize these vital elements so that employees are motivated to deliver brand promises and pursue their shared purpose.
  3. Collect feedback from employees about your culture. In Gallup's experience, effective leaders listen to their employees (via qualitative and quantitative feedback) when shaping their culture. When you measure culture in the language of your employees, you can shape that culture in a way that's authentic to your people. Giving employees a voice promotes engagement, commitment and ownership.

    Further, leaders promote excellence when they consider how their highest performers solve problems, think through processes and approach winning when defining shared cultural values and behavioral norms.

Remember: Culture change happens gradually -- leaders must be committed to investing in their culture as a long-term priority. Communicate often and consistently about your vision for the culture. Ask yourself: What example do you set as a leader? The most influential, tone-setting messages for culture come from executives, so be sure that everything you say and do aligns with your aspired culture.

Culture drift can be positive: It's part of being an agile organization. What's vital is that leaders keep their finger on the pulse of their culture to ensure their culture evolves in a direction that supports what matters most to their organization.

Perhaps most importantly, leaders need to go beyond talking about culture. It takes intentionality and long-term dedication to build a resilient culture that inspires people globally. No organization is immune to disruption and the consequential culture drift -- and only leaders can control it.

Take charge of your culture:

Author(s)

Rohit Kar is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Allan Watkinson is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Bailey Nelson is a Writer at Gallup.


Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/397034/steer-drifting-culture.aspx
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