Boards unsure of company culture

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As a concept, culture can often feel like Britishness - most people have a vague (if individualistic) sense of what it is (or think it should be), but struggle to explain it and reconcile differences ...


Phil Lewis, Read More
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​Boards often struggle to understand the culture of their organisations, research has found

A survey by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) has found that while 82% of the 28 organisations polled monitored company data relevant to culture, they payed relatively little attention to information offering specific insights such as customer complaints, supply chain data, social media and exit interviews.

Two fifths (40%) of boards said they didn’t receive information on customer satisfaction, while only 20% said they held information on relationships with their suppliers.

IBE’s research also detailed the top 10 corporate culture indicators communicated to boards. These included whistleblowing and speaking up on data (100%), employee survey results (88%), taxation policy (85%) and diversity (85%).

Peter Montagnon, associate director of the IBE, said that it was clear that while there is a risk of companies becoming overwhelmed by data, identifying and addressing any weaknesses within their organisation is vital to improving culture.

“Boards are rightly worried about being drowned in information […] It is important to join up the dots. A company whose staff, suppliers and customers are all broadly happy is likely to have a robust culture. But if even one of those groups is unhappy the risk of ethical problems is high,” he said.

News of poor organisational culture in large firms, such as the collapse of outsourcing firm Carillion and subsequent high executive payouts, and allegations of sexual abuse by senior figures in Oxfam, has brought the issues of culture and corporate governance under increasing scrutiny in recent months.

Sue Swanborough, HRD of Whitworths, said it is important that organisations provide a clear outline of their values.

“We’ve seen with recent high-profile cases that many people have been questioning the role of HR in organisational culture. Often organisations will say they value particular attributes, such as diversity or accountability, but that’s not being reflected in their feedback. It’s no good having a tick-box approach towards culture; there needs to be a conversation” she told HR magazine.

“If employers want to take steps to improve their culture they need to communicate with everyone involved – from their employees to their supply chains. They also need to think about what their values are. We need to ask: how do people actually experience our organisation? What do we need to deliver our values?” she added.

Comments

As a concept, culture can often feel like Britishness - most people have a vague (if individualistic) sense of what it is (or think it should be), but struggle to explain it and reconcile differences of opinion about it. In reality, culture really refers to the dominant narratives within a business. The stories people tell each other ultimately dictate what gets done, when and how. As a result, the culture question goes way beyond values into a broader assessment of the social order in a firm. When HR departments understand this they can unlock the innate value in their roles.


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Phil would be good to explore more of your thinking. Might we speak - mark@dolphinindex.org.


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