culture connect

, and April 1, 2019

Company culture is in vogue. If you did a Google search today on it, you would see a huge jump compared to even five years ago. The topic is gaining momentum and it is not only popular, but has real business impact.

Results from the recent Global Culture Survey,2 conducted by PwC Strategy&’s Katzenbach Center for Culture and Leadership, demonstrate the same heightened awareness and interest in organizational culture. In its survey of nearly 2,000 global respondents, three-quarters of Indian professionals say culture is an important topic on the agenda of their organizations’ leadership teams. In fact, 77 percent of Indian respondents say culture is more important to performance than an organization’s strategy or operating model.

And it is not just something leaders are looking at and admiring from afar—they see an urgent need to transform it. Nearly 80 percent of Indian professionals said that their organization’s culture must change significantly in order for their company to meet its goals. And they are not alone—nearly the same proportion of global respondents hold this belief as well, which is a major shift from five years ago, where only 51 percent of respondents felt this way.

Despite this burning platform, nearly 40 percent of Indian respondents said that their organization’s culture remained static, of which 22 percent said they attempted to evolve their culture but failed. What is holding these organizations back?

According to DeAnne Aguirre, Varya Davidson, and Carolin Oelschlegel in Closing the Culture Gap,3 every leadership team—whether its members admit it or not—is afflicted with some degree of cultural myopia. This is the tendency to see only the team’s own point of view, without fully acknowledging the perspective of others outside its ranks.

This is evident in our survey—as much as 84 percent of Indian C-suite and board members surveyed say what they say about their culture is consistent with how people really act. Among middle management, this number drops to 67 percent. And among non-management? Less than half—only 44 percent—believe the way people act in their organization matches what they say about their culture.

In other words, Indian executives—and in fact, executives around the world—have a much higher opinion of their organization’s cultural situation than those farther down the ranks. It may come as no surprise, then, that leaders struggle to see results from their culture initiatives. Leaders must address this gap and work within their cultural situation—rather than remain oblivious to it—in order to achieve their business strategy.

And without actively seeking to evolve a culture, in any large or well-established organization, the way we do things—our behaviors—can become so entrenched that it is nearly impossible to reverse the damage. And stuck behaviors belie a stuck company culture.

balancing cultural paradoxes in the Indian context

In the Indian context, there are two cultural realities that most organizations face:

01 balancing dual cultural expectations that are driving organizational decisions. This could be either on the back of leadership being divided on account of their backgrounds and expectations, or in the wake of large mergers and acquisitions that are taking place across industries as part of the consolidation exercises in India today. One more interesting reason behind balancing dual cultural expectations stems from varied expectations from generations of organization promoters and from employees and executives.

02 the multigenerational workforce and its varied expectations of the employee experience. While this is a global reality, in the Indian context it is quite acute and is poised to get even more so, on account of the influence of patriarchal norms of leadership to drive decisions top-down, and the newer workforce’s appetite to take larger risks and challenge the status quo—which is stronger than ever before.

In both these situations, the success of the organizations is dependent on the cultural priorities they take and the way in which these cultural priorities are implemented to drive business priorities.

So, how should an organization evolve its culture in today’s India? The answer is in maintaining simplicity and focusing on the critical few, but also in ensuring that we are wearing the hat of driving inclusivity all through.

We have all witnessed (or made) attempts to stop bad habits and know it is not easy to change, even with the best intentions. But with persistence and attention, habits can indeed be changed, and cultures can and do evolve. And the simpler the approach you take, the more effective you will be.

identify and measure

Four vital elements to shift your company culture and bring out its best:

  • traits: The set of shared characteristics that represent the ‘family resemblance’ of your entire enterprise—the qualities that transcend subcultures, and are at the heart of the shared assumptions people bring to work, and their emotional connection to what they do. According to our Global Culture Survey, 84 percent of Indian respondents feel proud of their organization—it is crucial to tap into that source of emotional energy.
  • keystone behaviors: The few carefully identified things that some people do, day after day, that would lead your company to succeed if they were replicated at greater scale.
  • authentic informal leaders (AILs): That small percentage of people in your company who have a high degree of emotional intuition or social connectedness stand out. Identify these, and you can cultivate them to help motivate employees and align with your goals.
  • metrics: The integrated, thought-out measures used to track progress, encourage the self-reinforcing cycle of true, lasting change, and link to business performance.

 act with clarity and discipline

As a leader, you need to help those in your sphere of influence become aligned with the company strategy. That means acting with clarity and discipline and making difficult choices. It means narrowing your focus—to those resonant traits, compelling behaviors, influential authentic informal leaders. Granted, it is not easy. What would happen if, right now, you had to select the three keystone actions your company should take immediately to build a better culture? You can probably think of twelve, and you will probably have a good reason to include each one. But select just three or four: if you cannot narrow down that list, you and everyone in your organization will be overwhelmed.

Another reason to go with the few, not the many: it will be very difficult to measure any change with so many elements. You will not even know which new behaviors have catalyzed new results. If you want to be effective at change or boosting performance, you need to focus your attention on the critical few.

take a simple, focused approach

Maintain a sharp focus on these four elements and you can reduce complexity and have a positive, informal, and lasting cultural impact on performance. This approach taps into the power of simplicity and takes the emotional dimension of human behavior into account. It also strengthens community connections by encouraging the workforce to look to peers and colleagues for insight, support, and encouragement. When people you trust and admire can model and enable a few key behaviors and then help others do the same, those behaviors will spread quickly—and stick.

Complexity is distracting. Comprehensiveness wastes energy. To carry everyone forward together, you need crystal-clear simplicity and a few elements. You do not need a lot of targets to hit or results to generate. You need to unify your organization’s people around a common, clear cultural movement, driven by a core of keystone behaviors and positive emotions.

If you can identify and deploy those critical few elements within the cultural situation in your work environment, you will create clarity and meaning for others. People around you will be more likely to make an emotional, not just a rational, commitment to change. They will trust and respect your choice of direction, and look for ways to follow it. Whether you are a leader close to the front lines, or a CEO, it is likely that your career will be marked by your ability to successfully shift a cultural situation. And as you inspire enthusiasm and creativity, you can build the kind of powerful workplace that people not only recognize for its effectiveness and innate value, but ultimately—a place where people want to work.