The pace of technology and innovation is driving dramatic transformation and disruption in the workplace. Companies embarking on a digital or customer journey, innovation or risk transformation project, are looking at a host of challenges that come with implementing new technologies and processes, as well as reskilling or deploying staff whose roles have been disrupted.
A growing number of C-suite and board members view culture as critical and strategic – it is also one of the most valued and often untapped asset in an organisation. Leaders at all levels need to leverage culture to accelerate and sustain transformation. The fate of any transformation effort depends on whether and how leaders engage their culture, which is implicit rather than explicit, and emotional rather than rational — that’s what makes it so hard to work with, but that’s also what makes it so powerful.
Recognising importance of culture
According to a 2018 survey on workplace culture conducted by the Katzenbach Center at PwC’s Strategy&, 80% of the more than 2,000 respondents said their workplace culture must evolve over the next five years to set the company up for growth, success and to keep its top talent. This number has risen, up from 51% five years ago.
Barry Vorster, partner in PwC’s People and Organisation division says: “The survey findings are an encouraging sign that the importance of culture is recognised and far better understood across many industries worldwide. Culture is a complex matter, and companies embarking on a transformation journey are facing significant challenges. Now more than ever in this wake of rapid change, culture in the workplace has become a focal point for business leaders.
“It is a critical ingredient with which organisations will have a significantly higher chance of being successful in all types of transformation taking place. Those companies that view culture as a critical ingredient to their future success and are able to tap into the power of their existing cultural situation have a higher chance in accelerating the transformation at hand – work performance and experience, strategic cost-cutting, transition to a contingent, digital, mergers and acquisitions, or any other – will outperform their peers.”
The Critical Few
Vorster was speaking at a roadshow in Johannesburg in which bestselling author and leading practitioner in organisational strategies for PwC’s Strategy&, Jon Katzenbach, launched his new book The Critical Few. Jon Katzenbach and his coauthors, James Thomas and Gretchen Anderson, have written a practical guide to working with culture and tapping into a source of catalytic change within an organisation.
The Strategy& survey looked at the relevance of culture and cultural change in the context of rapid change and transitional needs. Over half of the survey respondents (most in the financial services sector, software & services, energy, telecoms and the not-for-profit sector) had seen their company’s culture change.
Although culture may be high on the C-suite and board agenda, the people whom it impacts aren’t always seeing evidence of it – 71% of leaders agree that culture is an important leadership agenda item, compared with just 48% of employees. Moreover, just 57% of employees agreed that they were proud of their workplace, compared with 87% of executive and board members.
In The Critical Few, the authors define organisational culture as a “collection of deeply held attitudes, entrenched habits, repeated behaviours, latent emotions and collective perceptions of the world. Culture is the shared set of assumptions we all bring when we work together – our unspoken expectations of one another.”
For the first time, The Critical Few lays out the Katzenbach Center’s proven methodology for identifying and using your culture’s four most critical elements:
- Traits, characteristics that are at the heart of people’s emotional connection to what they do
- Behaviors, actions that would lead your company to succeed if they were replicated at a greater scale
- Authentic informal leaders, people who have a high degree of “emotional intuition” or social connectedness
- Metrics, integrated, thoughtful measures to track progress and encourage the self-reinforcing cycle of true, lasting change
Culture isn’t something you can change overnight, nor is it something you can achieve through a formal programme with a start and end date. It is, however, something you can shape, align, and steer over time, and you can start today by focusing on a few critical elements.