A CEO may have a clear strategy for their business, but how can that vision be instilled throughout the company culture? Shirley Soskin, managing partner at search and consulting firm Silverhawk Partners, tears down the barriers to change
1. Share the vision…
Soskin says: “Human nature feels comfortable with predictability. As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review put it, ‘Imagine trying to interest someone in playing a competitive sport in which the determination of whether the high score or the low score wins is not made until after the final whistle. No one of sound mind would participate. Similarly, imagine asking division managers to cut costs without letting them know whether their divisions will be rewarded or put up for sale if they achieve that outcome. People will go mad if punishment and reward are doled out randomly.’
“Therefore, asking for behavioural change inevitably causes a degree of discomfort. Clear articulation of the company vision can offset this: people like to share a common purpose, a feeling that they are travelling together towards a common goal. It’s not enough for these values simply to exist in a policy document: they need to be socialised within the organisation through, for example, a series of workshops and collaborative conversations.
“Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 survey shows 87 per cent of organisations citing culture and engagement as one of their top challenges – this is the way to own it.”
2. …and homogenise it
“Working with a company with no defined corporate vision recently, it became apparent that each team was working towards a goal more closely aligned to their core function rather than to that of the organisation as a whole. And so, using a variety of interactive tools and workshops, we worked organisation-wide to create a shared vision and mission.
“This not only helped focus the minds of the leadership team as to key priorities, but also allowed staff to see how what they did individually helped the entire organisation to deliver the overall vision. It’s not just the boss who needs to buy into the strategy: every single member of staff should be able to explain the direction of the business and their part in achieving success.”
3. Understand the staff perspective…
“Recently, I encountered the CEO of a medium-sized London-based company who was trying to make radical changes to his organisation’s strategic direction. A survey revealed that 78 per cent of staff did not think the leadership team was good at introducing and communicating change, so a major overhaul of staff communications was required. We worked with the leadership team to ensure simpler communications with headlines regularly issued via a range of offline and online channels. Six months later, his staff understand the need for change and are actively supporting it.
“An effective business leader understands where the barometer of staff satisfaction falls. Surveys, continued feedback from managers, and opening up discussions directly with members of staff – all these measures can help business leaders assess the climate of an organisation and see what particular changes need to take place within it.”
4. …and be an active listener
“Having clear, open channels of communication enables you to gain valuable feedback and insights. Technology is a massive boon here: we’ve worked with global organisations across time zones and differing local cultures, using interactive platforms to create a programme of ‘town hall’ discussions. Taking the form of a general intro from the CEO followed by individual messaging from employees, these programmes really make people feel they have their own platform for reaching the very top of the organisation and having their voices heard.”
5. Grasp the essence of motivation
“The UK pet food supplier Purina has an internal company motto, ‘Pets Before Profits’. It tells staff that what the company does is at the heart of its culture. In days gone by, people were said to be motivated by only two factors – fear and greed. Fortunately, the workplace has changed, and people nowadays are looking for a variety of ways to be inspired throughout the course of their working day.
“Contributing factors to a corporate culture include how people interact, how comfortable the office is and whether people think their voices are heard. Perhaps most important, though, is how belonging to an organisation affects self-esteem: Google recently celebrated its sixth year at number one in Fortune’s annual 100 Best Companies to Work For list, and not just because of the on-site doctors and free legal advice and food. ‘Working here can make you feel that you’ve made it into the technical equivalent of Major League Baseball or the NFL – you’re at the top of your field,’ as one employee puts it.”
6. Invest in individual performance
“Specially tailored performance coaching can help your staff work with more energy and purpose: a principle neatly demonstrated by the ‘marginal gains’ policy that underpinned the British cycling team’s domination at the 2012 Olympics. ‘The principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by one per cent, you’ll get a significant increase when you put them all together,’ as Sir Dave Brailsford, former performance director of British Cycling, put it.”
7. Mix it up
“Sometimes the best creative thinking comes from people from very different backgrounds working together, which encourages collaboration and generates energy and new ideas. People working in sales have a very different mindset from those who work in finance, distribution or manufacturing.
“We find that some of the most creative ideas come from unexpected sources – people with a different perspective, and experience, of the organisation. Global organisations can benefit from the diverse experiences of different cultures and local market knowledge. Technology is a great enabler allowing collaborative working across the globe.”
8. Celebrate the results
“Measuring what has changed and using honest feedback and quantitative data can ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits of cultural change. When you are clear that everyone is on the path to success, celebrate with teams and outstanding individuals, enabling everyone to understand the power of working together towards the common purpose.”
Who Shirley Soskin
Role Managing partner, Silverhawk Partners
Education Owner/President Management programme, Harvard Business School
Previous positions Founder and chair of PR agency Clarion Communications, now part of WPP Group; head of PR, Coca-Cola Great Britain
Not-for-profit portfolio Chair of City Year UK Advisory Board; Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy Board of Trustees; Jewish Policy Research
Shirley Soskin is a member of IoD London