Six ways to create a resilient workplace culture

06 March 2019 5 min. read

A new study by global management consulting firm North Highland has found that by actively monitoring and managing culture, leaders are able to assess engagement, ensure alignment, increase performance levels and innovation, and promote change-readiness and resiliency within their organizations. 

“Culture shows up as the output of how the organization thinks, reacts, communicates, collaborates, and makes decisions,” the study finds. But as a concept, culture can be ambiguous, making it difficult to home in models that effectively implement organizational-wide, business-changing cultural practices, besides run-of-the-mill “go team” speeches and direct leadership role-modeling. “In fact, the behaviors, actions, mindsets, and perspectives of culture can be grouped into six specific categories, which we identity as culture levers.”

These levers – some firms call them “core values” – work in tandem, and can each be leaned on more heavily at any given time to suit a business’s particular needs, such as assisting in organizational alignment, monitoring performance levels, the ongoing hunt for new, potentially lucrative, opportunities, and, importantly, crisis management, which in turn greatly aids in preparation for a rapidly changing, digital landscape.

“A crisis [or disruption] can hit any company at any time,” the study finds. “Scandal, failure, a bold new competitor, a rough earnings report, a poor product rollout – today, even companies with long track records of success are highly vulnerable to sudden turns of fortune. When a crisis is particularly threatening, it can rock the very identity of an organization.”

The six levers of culture

Release the levers, unleash the power

The six levers of culture are vision, values, behaviors, recognition, language, and systems. “While each of these isolated pieces can be adjusted specifically to make a meaningful impact on the organization, when operated on concert they amplify the power leaders have to build, manage, shift, or change culture as needed. 

Vision connects the work to the greater purpose of the organization. Purpose is an extremely important aspect of business in the current cultural landscape, with some studies predicting that its value is greater than that of profit in term of long-term success.

Values concerns what matters, what’s important, to a business. They act as guiding principles. It is largely fueled by vision. Once an inspiring vision is established, it is translated into “a clear set of values that drive every aspect of the business, breathing life into shared purpose and guiding employees in their interactions with customers,” the study finds. “Vision and values creates a shared sense of purpose at both the organizational and individual level.”

Behaviors and language go hand-in-hand to enhance culture. When the leaders of an organization – or a subset of an organization, such as a finance group – works together to create a common language that can be used to build a structure that teams can use to concretely determine what is expected of them. “By defining these levers and incorporating them into daily operations, behavioral norms are created, and bonds begin to form.”

Recognition is also important in creating an uplifting internal culture. "[It] influences the employee’s sense of belonging within an organization. Working the lever of recognition reinforces positive individual efforts and creates opportunities to set an example for other employees related to values.” But recognition is a delicate matter. People are people, after all, and there is the potential for dissent and emotional trouble if not handled correctly. Changes in pay – the announcement raises for specific teams, for example – might be poorly received by those whose pay will not be affected. This requires clear, prompt communication between leaders and employees to calm storms before they hit organizational shores.

Behaviors, language, and recognition only go so far in driving employees to participate in a positive workplace culture. Proper systems – “structures that determine how [businesses] operate and organize [their] work” –  go a long way in encouraging to employees to initiate and complete certain actions, in turn assisting a business in creating its desired culture.

Culture breeds resiliency

In its “Harvard Business Review Analytic Services' survey, which focused on resiliency, 88% of North Highland’s respondents said their employer had recently experienced or was currently experiencing a disruption. This greatly affected the employees of these organizations, most the respondents said, but “less than half felt the organization was successfully promoting a culture of resiliency.”

This is where leaders often fall short. They don’t see culture as a priority, something that must be molded, managed, directed. But waiting for a crisis or disruption is not an answer – nor is it a proper test of culture. Culture is something that is essentially tangible. It should be constructed, not hoped for. Culture is like a garden, the study says. And gardens, like culture, need tending, constant care. They must be regularly cultivated, pruned, trimmed.

“The ability to get back up, realign, and move forward is dependent on the organization relying on its culture and pulling the right levers to overcome challenges. Most companies and most leaders need to take that to heart and start using their culture levers more effectively and often,” the study concludes.

For more details on the report, download the study 'Intentional Cultures Are Resilient' from North Highland's website.