The Need for More Progressive Corporate Culture

It’s hard to believe we’re rapidly approaching two years since the initial pandemic lockdowns forced many in the white-collar world to work from home. While vaccines have made millions of people safer and restrictions have eased, few office businesses are truly back to normal.

COVID-19 accelerated many changes that were already happening or inevitable, like the dominance of ecommerce and a heavier reliance on technology. Perhaps a workforce with fewer in-person workdays is one of those things as companies note efficiencies and recognize that most businesses didn’t miss a beat because their teams were home.

However, the office is not dead. Nothing can match the energy and engagement of in-person interactions. Humans need connections, and teams need connections to truly thrive.

On the flipside, many workers crave flexibility and have demonstrated they can excel working remotely. The war for talent is real, and companies need to recognize that paradigms have shifted. And loosening geographical restrictions broadens the talent pool. So each employer has big decisions to make in terms of leasing, mandatory attendance and hiring practices. That shakeout is just beginning.

However, all companies have the need to build a strong culture. People work better when they are part of a vision, share a set of values and understand a company’s direction. Building an inspiring corporate culture has always been a tough and vital task. But when we’re not seeing each other daily, weekly or even monthly, it is even more difficult.

According to the Harvard Business Review, ‘Great culture should provide continuous alignment to the vision, purpose, and goals of the organization.’

Taking this as a starting point, it means workplaces need cultural flexibility and ongoing evolution. Leaders need to aim for and encourage the most creative and productive workplace culture – or usually a combination of cultures – for their business. This is why understanding the different types of organizational culture and their strengths and weaknesses is so essential.

Elliott Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst and management consultant, is most frequently named as the man behind the concept of organizational culture types, which he introduced in his 1951 book The Changing Culture of a Factory. But it was 30 years later when the idea took off.

Since then, it’s played out in many different ways, with academics, psychologists and authors creating their own categories in line with their personal experience and research. The resulting insights offer business leaders some powerful ways to engage with, evaluate and develop their own particular culture.

There isn’t a finite list of corporate cultures, but the four styles defined by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn from the University of Michigan are some of the most popular. These are Clan, Adhocracy, Hierarchy and Market. Every organization, so the theory goes, has its own particular combination.

Clan culture

A hallmark of many small businesses, start-ups and family-run organizations, Clan culture has an inward focus. It nurtures those who work within the company and emphasizes interpersonal relationships, communication and collaboration. By doing so, it aims to create one big happy family.

Adhocracy culture

A culture that runs on adrenaline and thrives on disrupting the status quo. Defined by its readiness to take risks, an Adhocracy culture prizes innovation and initiative and rides the waves of change with confidence. It also fails fast and learns from mistakes quickly to make the necessary changes next time. Tech companies are a prime example: entrepreneurial, dynamic and visionary.

Market culture

The most aggressive of the organizational culture types. Expect a workplace driven by targets, deadlines and the need to get results, with staff performance closely monitored. Clan and Adhocracy cultures embrace flexibility, but Market culture needs stability to function, making it a common feature in bigger and long-established companies.

It’s also outwards focused, keeping its sights trained on the customer and how to beat its competitors. Reputation matters, as does staying one step ahead.

Hierarchy culture

A place for everyone and everyone in their place. There’s a formality to this particular organizational culture, with leaders at the top and an established chain of command. In essence, it’s the traditional corporate structure.

How can you change your organization’s culture?

Identifying your current cultural type is the first step. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Is it keeping pace with changes in the marketplace and the wider world? For example, the rapid adoption of remote working has changed how many businesses function and shifted the focus for employees about job satisfaction and security.

Employee satisfaction surveys and self-assessments can be invaluable here, along with feedback from customers and suppliers. Examine the unspoken norms, assumptions and expectations. Look at how people behave towards each other, their daily working habits, and what your high-performing employees have in common. Your aim is to understand the way people work.

Once you know where you are, you can think about where you want to be. And you can identify which elements of the different organizational culture types are the best fit for your vision.

Five steps to cultural transformation

  1. Define your core values. Why do you do what you do? This includes the way you treat your people, suppliers and customers. These core values guide every action your business takes. When you know what they are, communicate them to your employees and explain what they mean for the organization and everyone in it.
  2. Lead the way. Make sure your business leaders understand their role in the transformation. What do they need to know, feel and do to make the cultural shift successful? Are they equipped to communicate the key messages and support their teams during the transition?
  3. Engage employees. Share your vision, update your teams regularly and invite feedback. The way your people work on a day-to-day basis is a defining feature of your corporate culture. People play a vital role when moving the company forwards. In the words of the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report: “By linking the deeds of individuals at any level to larger goals, leaders can give meaning to even the most ordinary actions.”
  4. Recruit the right people. Corporate cultures need diversity. So the aim is not to have a workforce that all think, act and look the same. Instead, find individuals who can contribute in their own unique way while still sharing – and adding to – your organization’s values.
  5. Be consistent and patient. Monitor and analyze progress and stay focused. Corporate culture is deeply rooted in every aspect of the business and how it functions. To quote the Harvard Business Review, changing your culture requires ‘a movement, not a mandate…’