Disentangling culture, engagement and strategy; what do they all mean?

Who we are. What we stand for. Our vision. Our purpose. Commitment to the cause. Employee alignment. Measuring impact.

If you’re in the corporate world, these phrases are pervasive. After a while, they all start to sound like the same nebulous conversation about improving your organization. But these concepts are being repeated, investigated and dissected for a reason—they’re imperative. Not only to employee happiness and positivity, but to business success.

So, we set out to define and differentiate these important ideas, and to provide our top three keys to success for leveraging them effectively.

Defining culture, engagement and strategy

Let’s start with one of the most trending concepts today, culture. Harvard Business Review defines culture as, “the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways, it unleashes tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and it fosters an organization’s capacity to thrive”[1] and it can be expressed in both tangible and intangible ways. Culture is comprised of an organization’s shared values, underlying perceptions, feelings and behaviors and finally, observational artifacts—such as dress code, symbols or stories.[2]

As you can imagine, cultures can be described in many ways – as collaborative, imaginative, innovative or strict, for instance. We put forward that no culture is right, wrong, or better, but rather that the strongest cultures are those with the highest level of convergence and alignment between employees, leadership and business objectives. In other words, it doesn’t matter what your organizational culture, only that employees are on board with it and that the culture is propelling you toward achieve your organizational goals.

Learn More: Living at the Intersection of Brand Purpose and Culture

Speaking of employee alignment with culture, let’s talk about engagement. While some think of employee engagement as attendance at company events or participation in benefits programs, we define employee engagement as a measure of cultural alignment. While metrics such as loyalty, advocacy and satisfaction serve as great measures of engagement, we also believe in the importance of measuring emotional engagement:

    • How closely does an individual’s vision of the organizational culture align with that of their colleagues’ and leadership’s vision?
    • Are they aware of the ways in which others describe the culture?
    • Do they agree with it and actively contribute to it on an ongoing basis?

By measuring and tracking engagement on an ongoing basis, an organization is better equipped to address any potential cultural gaps that could be rising to the surface. It is about really listening to employees, hearing them when they tell you what is working and not working, and taking specific action to address their feedback.

Learn More: Living Your Brand: Tangible Takeaways From Purpose-Led Organizations

Finally, let’s discuss strategy. Strategy is the blend of internal equities and external needs, the balance of current capabilities and future aspirations. A strategy sets the business course for the future but must be grounded in something real. While this element brings the external market needs into the mix (what do our customers want? where is the market moving?), we cannot stretch beyond the confines of our culture. Brands must remain true to who they are in order to adequately and authentically deliver against their strategy.

Keys to Success:

    1. When looking to evaluate or evolve either your organization’s culture or strategy, it’s important to strike a balance between who are you right now, and where you want to be. Strive to be aspirational, yet realistic, or else risk remaining stagnant.
    2. Think bottom-up and top-down. Culture doesn’t start and stop at any one level in the organization. While some companies may be inspired by a unique leader or founder and emulate that person’s behavior, others are shaped and defined by the frontline employees themselves. The same goes for strategy – leadership may have a different idea of the path forward, while employees may maintain a more realistic view of what’s possible.
    3. Codify, measure, and measure again. While it may be difficult to capture your culture or strategy in words, sharing a consistent description is the best way to gain alignment and agreement at scale. A consistent description also allows for tracking over time, to see how employees identify with and feel about the organization’s culture and level of success against strategic goals.

Does this topic resonate with you? Reach out to us here with comments or questions – we love to hear more about what is on your mind!

 

[1] The culture factor: essential guide to determining your organization’s current culture and shaping it to fit your strategy, HBR, January-February 2018 issue 

[2] Schein, E. H. 1990. Organizational Culture. American Psychologist.