We hear a lot about organisation culture. For good reasons: companies with a strongly defined and followed culture are just more successful at many levels: attracting and retaining the people they want, more and more loyal customers and so on. 

So how do you build a well-defined and followed culture? 

Many organisations have formulated a set of values. Most organisations with defined values will communicate them. For instance, you find a company values on their website. That is a good thing to have. 

Values are high-level, theoretical and open to interpretation 

Unfortunately, the trouble with values is that they are high-level, theoretical and lack substance. They are also too open to interpretation. 

Let’s look at some examples. Many companies will have respect as one of their values. For instance, something like “We respect our staff and customers.” What does it mean? Most of us will tell you that respect is important but it will mean very different things to different people. For instance, when I was teaching biology in Universities, some students would only address me as Prof. Minois (even if I wasn’t a professor) and some would even decline a meeting to discuss something they had trouble with because they did not want to take some of my valuable time to discuss such lowly matters as their own problems. In contrast, other students would address me by my first name and drop in my office to ask questions. Both types of students were respectful, in their own way. 

A second example of a value a lot of people would consider important and that many companies have is empowerment. Once again, what does it mean to empower people? Able to choose your working hours, the tasks you work on? Wide involvement in decision-making? Asking people to fill in surveys about the company? 

You should now see that sharing values is not enough to embed a culture in your organisation. So what else? 

It is about what people do and say 

The easiest way to gauge a culture is by the behaviours, words and actions of the people belonging to the culture. These are external cues and are easier to assess. 

So what an organisation needs to do to build a strong culture is define the behaviours and actions that will translate the culture in everyday activities. 

Behaviours and actions are not processes and procedures. Processes and procedures are function- and department-specific. They are rules on how to do a job. They are different from behaviours. 

Behaviours are actions that everybody in the organisation will follow and enact, irrespective of role, department, function, seniority level. It is how people will behave towards each other within the company and also towards customers and other stakeholders. 

Then, the values become clearer. Respecting clients can become “I will contact a client when I said I would do it.” Empowerment can become “A team can decide for themselves on such and such matter.” 

Behaviours and actions do not need to be linked to values. Linking them is actually limiting because many behaviours you would wish people to follow may not fall under one of the organisation values. 

Behaviours can foster inclusion 

Behaviours are particularly important when it comes to inclusion. Inclusion is really something employees, customers, partners, collaborators are more and more looking at before deciding to forge a relationship with a company. 

They may first look at the information available on a website or social media sites about how inclusive a company is. 

But at the end, it is the behaviours everybody in the organisation exhibit, the messages they send when they communicate that will show how inclusive the company really is. This is what will make the difference. 

Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk too when it comes to inclusion.

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