People-driven Culture: Your only true sustainable competitive advantage

Firstly, what is organisational culture?

The culture of an organisation is its personality and character and just like the personality and character of a person, organisational culture is likely to attract certain people, repel certain people and evolve over time.

What is people-driven organisational culture?

It goes without saying that the purpose of your organisation is important i.e. what you design or create or the service you offer but these things are likely to be dependent on people to generate the output. As a result, your people are likely to be your greatest asset.

With or without your input and influence, your people drive your culture. They do this through the way in which they behave, interact, interpret and regard (or disregard) the frameworks that you put in place.

By taking a step back and thinking about your current culture and potentially the culture that you would like to create, you can harness your people to drive forward that organisational culture.

Why is a people-driven culture important?

To put it simply, a positive culture which is driven by your people will enhance your ability to recruit, develop and retain future talent and as a consequence, help you to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.

After all, your organisational culture is something which is completely unique to your company and almost impossible to replicate by your competitors.

When you are thinking about your organisational culture, it’s important to consider all of the aspects that combine to create that culture.

Six interconnected areas that create a culture

1. Stories i.e. how past and present events and people impact on the shared memory of the organisation.

Organisations that have expanded or contracted quickly will usually understand that the way that these things were managed in the past have a direct impact on the culture of today.

For example, when a company recruits high volumes it can often experience a decrease in the morale of its existing talent if care is not taken to nurture their skills and experience as well as the new people coming into the business. Conversely, a company that must contract should take care not to lose talent it wishes to retain through the mismanagement of a restructure.

Organisations can hold the scars of a negative situation for a significant period of time and these scars can hold back future growth if they are not identified and overcome.

The simplest way that I have found for organisations to understand the impact of their stories on their culture is to speak to their people regularly. Encouraging leadership and managers to have monthly one-to-ones focused on people’s wellbeing rather than work output help organisations to understand any barriers or assumptions that may be affecting their people and their ability to perform to the extent of their full potential.

2. Rituals or shared assumptions about how our people behave and interact with each other.

Organisations differ in how they encourage or discourage certain behaviours and interactions. These behaviours and interactions can have a profound impact on organisational culture.

In order to create a positive people-driven culture, you need to think about what behaviours and interactions you want to encourage and then put a framework in place that reflects this.

3. Shared values & beliefs that guide your people’s behaviour.

Shared values create a unified belief system to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. These values act as a framework to guide how you do something as an organisation rather than what you do.

For example, most organisations will recruit new people at some point but how you do this will often be reflective of your shared values and beliefs. An organisation that values transparency and has a culture that supports its people will often provide lots of information on its website about the recruitment process and the company to give new recruits the best possible chance of securing a position. An organisation with a culture that values diversity is likely to use a diverse range of attraction and selection methods to ensure that it widens the candidate pool as much as possible.

4. Leaders i.e. where power and influence lie.

It makes sense that different organisational structures and leadership styles have a massive impact on culture. Possibly the biggest impact that structure and leadership style will have on a people-driven culture is through the way in which it creates or dismantles trust.

A low-cost way to ensure a people-driven culture is to train your people managers to do this part of their role effectively and with confidence. All too often people are given the title of manager without been given the tools to do that part of their role – after all great managers are made not born to quote an overused phrase.

And just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you send your managers on an expensive training course. In my experience, lack of confidence in managers is often derived through them not understanding the extent of their remit based on the particular ‘rules’ within their organisation such as how do they manage lots of sickness absence, how do they deal with compassionate leave and so on.

5. Control

This relates to the different ways in which the organisation is controlled from financial systems to reward and recognition.

For example, if you believe that your team members intrinsically dislike their work and have little motivation you are more likely to use an authoritarian style of management. Manager’s with this approach are likely to micromanage their teams. However, if you believe that your people take pride in their work and see it as a challenge, then you’ll more likely adopt a participative management style. You will likely trust your people to take ownership of their work and do it effectively by themselves with management.

A culture in which managers are predominantly authoritarian will likely reflect this through extensive roles, policies and procedures.

A people-driven culture in which managers are predominantly participative is likely to have a framework approach and trust will be valued highly within the culture. In these organisations, you might see people self-police and share assumptions on how to behave in order to preserve this culture for the benefit of everyone.

6. Symbols such as logos and the physical or virtual environment that you’ve chosen to create.

If the recent lockdown has taught us anything it’s that an organisations ‘environment’ does not only relate to the physical world but instead relates to the spaces (both online and offline) that a company creates and the ‘rules’ that it imposes around these spaces.

An easy way to use your environment to create a people-driven culture is to think about the rules that you impose and identify if these are in harmony with the other aspects of your culture.

For example, if one of your values is Diversity and Inclusion then think about if this translates to your environment.

  • Do you work in an office space that is only accessible via stairs?
  • Do you actively encourage flexible working patterns?
  • Do you ask about reasonable adjustments at the pre-interview stage?

Some of these are low-cost solutions and some are not but it’s important to understand the interconnectivity when you are looking to create a people-driven culture.

Victoria Johnson (Green Jay Founder)

Green Jay offers pragmatic talent management solutions to progressive start up and scale up organisations in Bath and Bristol.

To find out how we can help your organisation to harness your people-driven culture get in touch today.

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