Managing, measuring and mastering culture: FGS Global panel discussion
November 2023, London. Louisa Moreton, Global Head of Employee Engagement & Change at FGS Global, led a panel discussion on corporate culture with three industry experts: Alex Gillespie, Professor of Psychological and Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics, Michal Oshman, author and former Head of Company Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion at TikTok, and Anjli Raval, Management Editor at the Financial Times.
In today’s volatile environment, boards are increasingly faced with questions about their corporate culture, in the context of a wider cultural shift of the employer-employee relationship. Company culture is on the agenda more today because shifts in broader societal culture have given employees confidence to raise issues about work and to set new expectations around behaviour. Many companies have whistleblowing lines, but employees often go straight to social media or journalists. The pressure is on Executive teams and Boards to ensure their culture is keeping pace with the outside world. The panel explored the meaning of culture and how it can be strengthened and measured.
According to our panellists, culture can best be thought of as the behaviours, values and standards demonstrated consistently by employees at every level, which create a shared sense of identity. In a healthy culture, this shared identity improves loyalty and communication. The emphasis was placed on action and integrity: “it’s how people behave when no one is looking”. The panel talked about culture as an intrinsic part of a company’s fabric: something that a company cannot create. You have to work with what’s there and then move the dial intentionally. Cultures must be led from the front, they can’t only be built up from the employee base without first being embodied by a company’s senior leadership team to demonstrate consistency and authenticity.
The panellists talked about cultures that reflect the values of the company’s own service or product and their end users, creating a connection between employee and customer experience that underlines authenticity. Trust was seen as critical, and we discussed the fact that trust is both an input and an outcome.
A company can be thought of as an elaborate network of communications between individuals, which employees must be tapped into to participate fully in the organisational culture. The stronger this network is, the closer employees will feel to each other and the stronger the sense of a shared culture, while weaker connections leave employees feeling detached. A simple first step is to strengthen these “lines of communication” to give their employees a voice, disseminate a clearly-defined set of values, and encourage a dialogue. Psychological safety is an enabler of trust, and the panellists discussed the importance of being able to make mistakes and speak up. It takes a strong positive culture to enable learning in that way, but the potential in creativity, ideas and commitment are significant.
Culture measurement needs upgrading; the traditional employee survey can’t be relied on, not least because of the subjectivity of participants. In healthcare, patient complaint letters more accurately predict mortality rates than internal reporting, and this “outside-in” lens is just as important in other sectors. This “unstructured data” provides a more accurate barometer of culture and better diagnoses where issues need to be addressed.
What can we action and take away from the session?
Make culture tangible: focus on actions and behaviours, starting with alignment at the top
Include outside voices in your assessment and look to unstructured data
Focus on building trust: it’s the key to openness, creativity, feedback and growth
Encourage conversations about culture internally: if you don’t, they will surface externally
Strengthen internal communication, informal and formal; it increases the network effect.