1 Nov 2021

ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE – A SOURCE OF SUSTAINABLE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

What is culture?

Scholars and academics have many things to say about organisational culture and define it in various ways, but in my opinion the best definition is the simplest one – ‘the way we do things around here’.

The culture of an organisation is the company’s philosophy in action – it’s what makes a company truly unique. Culture influences everything an organisation stands for and what they achieve. From leadership decisions and employee behaviour, through to how workplaces are structured and how meetings are run.

Because culture is impacted by so many variables – like leadership, training, communications, brand and so on – no two corporate cultures are the same.

How can the culture of an organisation contribute to an organisation’s success?

Culture plays a critical role in helping organisation’s achieve their goals. Culture is what brings people together and channels everyone’s energy and effort towards a unified purpose.

The Harvard Business Review says that ‘Culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive’. Now that’s a powerful reason for leaders to carefully consider the kind of culture they are building in their organisation. And because organisational culture is tacit in nature and evolves over several years, it’s a lever that many leaders struggle to make full use of. But culture shouldn’t be overlooked – an organisation’s culture has the power to bring to life your business strategy or undermine it altogether.

Great leaders use culture as a key management tool in their organisation. They take the opportunity to influence people seriously and seek to leave a legacy that extends beyond their tenure.

Can culture be a source of competitive advantage?

An organisation’s culture absolutely can be a source of competitive advantage, in fact many believe that it’s among the few sources of sustainable competitive advantage left to companies today. You don’t need to look too far to see examples of highly successful organisations who credit their corporate culture for much of their ability to outperform their competitors. When you dive into organisations at the top of their game, you will almost always see that there was a clearly articulated aspirational culture and this was effectively communicated and expected of employees even before the onboarding process began. Just look at the 2020 list of the top places to work in Australia and you’ll find some great cultures at work. The research institute defines the best place to work as one ‘where you trust the people you work with, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you work with’.

Can Employee Communications help influence an organisation’s culture?

Employee Communications does influence an organisation’s culture. In fact I would go a step further and say that the communications function within an organisation plays a critical role in helping an organisation shift their culture or reinforce their existing one.

There are many models and practices out there used to help improve organisational performance through culture change yet they all have one thing in common – they require clear articulation of the optimal culture. That’s where communications professionals like me get excited.

Communications advisors are experts in getting the right message across to employees using the most effective channels for the organisation and in the most impactful way. Once you have a clear understanding of your current organisational culture and clarity around your optimal culture –  it’s critical to engage the support of a communications professional to develop a strategy that supports you on your culture journey.

Another vital step in cultural change programs is opening the culture dialogue across the organisation. Leaders and employees at all levels need to understand the outcomes that culture brings about for the business and how it aligns with present and future business conditions. They also need to understand what is expected of them. They need to be clear about their specific role and how it impacts the organisation’s success. When purpose is clearly articulated, then employees have a greater opportunity to connect with your vision and become ambassadors of your culture and brand.

Communications professionals specialise in developing frameworks that open up discussion and dialogue in a way that influences shared norms, beliefs, and understanding. Initiatives like interdivisional working groups, focus groups, round tables, road show events and social media discussions can support the change process by cultivating discussion.

In closing, communications professionals have a wonderful opportunity to play an active role in the culture conversation, helping leaders identify cultural shifts required in the business and ensuring that change management principles are considered and applied as part of their communication strategies.

Linda Karkafi

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