Why organisational culture goes way beyond your mission statement

WeThrive Team · October 29, 2018

We salute any company that cares enough about its staff to realise that company culture is important. But the real heroes are the ones who think this through fully and realise that a mission statement is not enough – in fact it is not even a starting point, because a mission statement can actually make employees less satisfied if it is not congruent with the way they actually have to work.

Here’s our take on organisational culture, including our definition, what a bad company culture looks like and what employers can do to improve it.

Organisational culture definition: what does it mean exactly?

We talk about company culture a lot but there’s actually no single, or even comprehensible, definition. Wikipedia’s attempt at an organisational culture definition for example is:

“The behaviour of humans within an organisation and the meaning that people attach to those behaviours.”

A lofty definition our Co-founder and business psychologist Piers Bishop just finds odd. He explains:

“How much time do you spend attaching meaning to the behaviours of your colleagues? Also culture has to consist of more than just how people behave, and that people’s behaviour is influenced by the culture that surrounds them. So culture has to be a circular system; the company vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs and habits. All elements that contribute to organisational culture, which in turn affects or even defines all of these things and influences the staff in the process.”

In other words, organisational culture is the whole biological, psychological and social environment that we swim in the workplace.

What does a ‘good’ workplace culture look like?

Imagine a company where the environment was set up to meet the innate needs of the people who work there. This doesn’t mean making life easy for staff, quite the opposite in fact, because humans need to be stretched and supported so we can learn, grow and enjoy the experience of conquering challenges and doing things well. Such a workplace would also have a staff who felt:

  • Secure and in control
  • Had good social connections
  • Were given clear briefings
  • Access to the tools they need to do their jobs well
  • Listened to and supported

Now imagine a place where people did not have any feelings of security, or any of the other conditions we have just described. Now consider how those two contrasting environments are likely to influence other areas of the business, such as productivity, employee morale and employee turnover. It’s pretty clear which of those is likely to deliver the best results on those areas.

A good company culture doesn’t just create a better working environment and benefit employees. It leads to greater business performance and growth.

What makes a company culture ‘bad’?

We all know that some working cultures are healthier and more pleasant to spend time in than others. Based on our survey findings of over 10,000 employees the main reasons employees gave for being unhappy included:

  • Wasted time: almost 1/3 of all working time is compromised by something that could potentially be resolved
  • Communication issues: there are deficits in every company’s knowledge sharing, management attention & acknowledgement of individuals
  • Being anxious: people feel a lack of control, are over-stretched and have very limited headspace

For employees sometimes it’s obvious when a culture they work in is ‘bad’, for example when they have a toxic boss or impossible demands that leave them feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Often though there is nothing obviously wrong but they still don’t feel happy or able to focus, because of something they can’t quite put their finger on. This is where we come in, helping businesses to listen to their employees and uncovering the conscious and subconscious reasons they are not able to thrive in their working environment.

How can we improve organisational culture?

There is no one size fits all approach to ‘fixing’ a bad company culture, but there is a way of looking at culture that makes the reasons for any issues immediately clear. As Maslow noted almost a hundred years ago, human beings have biological, psychological and social needs which have to be met for people to be happy and well.

If you are able to arrange the bio-psycho-social elements of the culture so that they meet the bio-psycho-social needs of the people in it, voila, the people instinctively know they are in a good place and the culture problem melts away.

Doing this in practice involves understanding what the needs of the human are, of course, but that’s one of the reasons WeThrive is growing so rapidly; those needs are the core framework and operating system it runs on.

3 ways to improve company culture

Listen more. Talk more. Think more.

  1. Listen to the staff, and not just to the obvious commentary about processes and procedures. Listen to how they are feeling about their work, from the perspective of their innate needs. Use the WeThrive 4C model as a guide to what you should be listening fr, because if all of that is working as well as it can be in your sector, your staff will do well.
  2. Talk more, and encourage continuing conversations – sideways, upwards and down the layers of the company. People who are in regular conversation understand each other better, collaborate more, make fewer mistakes and are safer. They’re also less likely to get cross when things go wrong.
  3. Think more. When something goes right, or wrong, think about how that happened and why, how it worked for the staff and the customers and what could be done to make it work better. Think about how instructions, encouragement, thanks and praise flow through the company, who receives it and when and how to get the others into positions where their contribution to the company can be acknowledged. Above all, think about what it is like to be there, and what can be changed to reduce stresses and frustrations, because they just waste human time and energy, sap morale and sour the culture. And…

Think about using WeThrive to make all of this easier

The easiest way to demonstrate how we can help is by telling you a story, which we can do with our recent case study from Personal Group, who knew they needed to listen to their staff; not just to what they thought about the obvious pay and conditions issues but the whole bio-psycho-social environment they worked in. The whole culture, in other words.

If you enjoyed this you might also want to read our article offering 5 ways to create a coaching culture at work or read our blog on why overworked employees are less productive.