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The 10 Rules of Strong Organisational Culture


Here is why a positive and strong organisational culture is critical to business success.

By Saima Arfeen

Saima is Oakwood's Associate Consultant and works in our Associate Team
More from Saima >>

Let’s read the title of this blog again and this time slowly…

Culture.Eats.Strategy.For.Breakfast. Isn’t that such a powerful statement and an absolute reality!  This phrase was originated by Peter Drucker and was made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford.

Organisational Culture

Organisational culture is what defines an organisation, it's what motivates staff and it's why they stay. Organisational culture, sadly I might add, is one of the most underrated and overlooked aspects of an organisation. Organisations are extremely pre-occupied with the high level strategy and a razor-sharp focus on the bottom line to even realise that it’s the culture that will make or break them. 

Organisational culture means modus operandi, i.e,how things are done around here. It’s the mantra that management consultants religiously chant!

How many times has it happened, in all honesty, that key stakeholders in an organisation stop and question "What does it feel like to work here?" What we often get wrong is that this question is mainly relegated to the annual employee engagement survey and given a cursory glance, if at all! A shrug of the shoulders and a blasé "It is what it is" just leads to talent leaving for competition who have something better to offer…not only monetarily, but a better work environment, culture and ethos. 

How to improve your work culture

So where does the onus lie on for a poor culture and who takes the accolades for a strong one? The simple answer is – EVERYONE! It needs to be sponsored, driven and embedded into the organisational DNA by the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), but middle management and employees are all equally accountable for it to be sustainable.

It’s interesting the kind of startled reactions, raised eyebrows and a minute’s silence that follows when SLT is asked "Define the culture of your organisation in one word". The fact that there needs to be careful thought on the description is an indicator enough that we are not spending enough time to the very foundation of the organisation. You will have people stay only because it’s the means to an end, or because the next best opportunity hasn’t yet presented itself, but then you will also have talent leave because the culture is toxic towards their professional growth and peace of mind. 

One popular example that comes to mind is that of a billion-dollar tech company (name withheld) whose key reason for a poor culture is ‘’astonishingly poor management practices’’. Like it or not, employees tend to ape the behaviour of their managers, especially when they know that poor behaviour has no real consequences. 

The 10 rules of strong organisational culture

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Conversely, there are organisations that employees love to work for, such as Virgin, Facebook, Google, and Twitter to name a few; what’s their common denominator you might ask? Let’s explore the 10 rules of what a strong culture looks like that these organisations and so many more follow - 

1. Employee Value Proposition: 

What makes your organisation unique and what you stand for?  If you have strong applicants lining up to join your organisation, you know you are doing something right!

2. Trust: 

The bedrock of any successful relationship. Rock solid levels of trust engender commitment and engagement. If employees are constantly ‘’Big Brother-ed’’ or micromanaged, then they know when to switch on and switch off ‘’good behaviour.” Wouldn’t you prefer sincerity over deceit? Additionally, archaic policies and a lack of flexibility are also additional culprits of disengagement and toxicity.

3. Values in the organisational DNA:

Does the CEO down to the facilities management staff live and breathe the company values? If the answer is in the negative, then you can’t expect them to deliver the results you want to see. 

4. An atmosphere of inspiration and excellence:

Are your employees passionate about what they do, engaged and motivated? Well then working at your organisation is a bonus!

5. Empowerment:

A subset of trust, empowerment results in employees feeling they can conquer the world and will thrive on the sense of autonomy. Healthy conflict resolution is also an extension of empowerment where the culture supports embracing differences and harmonising through diversity.

6. Low attrition levels:

If people are happy, why would they want to leave?

7.  Office politics – but to a bare minimum:

It’s a fact; office politics exist and they aren’t always necessarily a bad thing. SLT often tends to get a sense of the temperature and pulse of the organisation through this, but this should be limited to a one off event. Strong cultures see the top brass having a zero tolerance policy towards group behaviour, favouritism and gossip; they are called leaders for a reason – they need to be strong role models and simply lead by example.

8. Strong brand ambassadors:

Your biggest and strongest marketing tools are your employees. If they acquire high quality talent for you, then you are quite simply reaping the fruits of your hard labour of the creation of and the sustainability of a positive culture!

9. Investment in Learning and Development:

People are your biggest resources and a solid investment of time and money in your key resource goes a long way. A learning organisation is one that sets the foundation for having loyal and knowledgeable staff.

10. A strong bottom line:

Not necessarily a precursor to a great work culture, but nonetheless, if you get the top 9 points right, chances are that your financial performance will also paint a pretty picture.

Any company disconnecting culture and strategy are putting their success at risk. You don’t need to have state of the art technology, or a theme park campus to have a mile long line of applicants roaring to join your organisation. It’s quite often the intangible aspects that go a long way. Strategy is what we need to do, but culture is how we do it.

Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch AND dinner, so make sure you do it right from the get-go and if the culture needs realignment, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo!

Contact us for more information at info@oakwooddubai.ae or call one of our expert programme advisors on +971 4 359 9020.

Photo by Charles Koh on Unsplash