Organisational Culture in Business

There are hundreds of scholarly definitions for organisational culture, which can make the subject confusing to understand. However, I have tried to simplify the concept of corporate culture for this concise summary.

    Why is Culture Important to Business?

    Culture is essential within businesses because staff commitment to strategic goals will be low without a healthy organisational culture. When a company culture is good, employees are well-motivated, empowered and genuinely care about their work. Consequently, the working environment can become one of teamwork, positivity, and happiness, where business success is celebrated collectively.

    Old-school business thinking, such as I pay the staff a good wage, so they should work hard and be grateful, does not work in the employee market that we live in today. The team can and do leave businesses because of the culture. 

    I have worked in leadership roles within two organisations where the poor organisational culture was a significant negative factor influencing employee performance.

    One company is a huge multinational corporation with a turnover of billions per year. The other company is an SME-sized family business. However, both had very similar underlying cultural problems that needed to be worked on to improve the performance of strategic business units and individuals. 

    One of the most apparent symptoms of a bad organisational culture is when staff blame other departments or people for mistakes. Moreover, poor leadership often exacerbates this, such as leaders who shirk responsibility and accountability. 

    If a company has a blame culture, it can quickly destroy morale, erode trust, reduces productivity, and increase staff turnover. Blame culture is covered in more detail in the next section.

    Blame Culture

    Blame culture within organisations is evident when individuals or teams are blamed for business issues or mistakes. When this happens, it creates a situation where employees do not own up when things go wrong, which can have terrible consequences. 

    This situation prevents organisational learning and continuous improvement and can lead to a repeat of the same mistake by other persons or teams. If the error was a health and safety near miss, not reporting this issue could put other people in danger.

    Business leaders should work to encourage a just organisational culture where staff can admit mistakes without reprimand for the good and benefit of all employees and the organisation.

    Do you have a blame culture in your business? If the answer is yes, seek professional help to improve your culture as a priority because it will significantly improve your organisation.

    Just Culture

    Opposed to blame culture is just culture (sometimes called a no blame culture). Organisations with a just culture benefit from openness and learning that can prevent accidents or errors from happening again.

    This is achieved through safe reporting processes that highlight mistakes and errors as an opportunity for continuous improvement and organisational learning. The Civil Aviation Authority describes just culture brilliantly below:

    ‘Cultivating an atmosphere where people have confidence to report safety concerns without fear of blame’.

    Having worked within Army Aviation for seventeen years before working in the private sector. I have seen the effectiveness and success of just culture being applied on a large scale, with the common goal of reducing accidents and protecting people and assets.

    Developing a just culture for your business is highly recommended if you want to improve people, processes, safety, and the morale of your staff members. I have introduced a just culture into three organisations in the last six years and the business benefits of which are many, but include the following:

    The Benefits of a Just Culture

    1. It helps to reduce accidents and near misses
    2. Facilitates organisational learning
    3. Produces continuous process improvement
    4. Reduces staff turnover
    5. Increases trust in leaders and managers
    6. Improves morale in the workplace
    7. Supports ISO processes
    8. A professional best practice for successful business
    9. Change your business outlook from a glass-half-empty to a glass-half-full
    10. Reduces toxic behaviour

    How to Improve the Culture in your Business

    We have covered the virtues of developing a just culture within businesses, but how do you make it happen? Below is a quick guide to get you started on improving the culture in your business:

    1. Firstly, like any change management, the initiative must be led and championed by the leadership element of the organisation
    2. Communicate the changes to all staff members and get them involved in the process
    3. Make cultivating a just culture part of your business goals, mission, or values
    4. Use a case study to provide evidence where a just culture may have changed the outcome of an event or error
    5. Celebrate wins with the whole organisation and link culture to employee objectives
    6. Coach and mentor staff members to develop the correct behaviours 
    7. Performance manage individuals that display negative behaviours
    8. Track the progress with key performance indicators and periodic progress reviews
    9. Seek expert business consulting support to speed up the process and use best practices