Getting beneath your cultural iceberg to build a better workplace
Updated 27th March 2022
An organisation's culture is a lot like an iceberg. The most visible culture of an organisation is at the tip above the water's surface. But don't overlook the invisible day-to-day culture lurking beneath the surface. You'll need to understand the true depths of your business culture if you want to build a better workplace.
The cultural iceberg analogy demonstrates the difficulties that management experiences. Managers can struggle in assessing the health and well-being of an organisation outside of the standard metrics or KPIs. They tend to rely on aspects of culture which are more clearly visible.
Culture eats strategy for breakfastPeter Drucker, Father of Management Thinking
When most people think of an iceberg, they imagine the top poking out of the water. So, maybe we should start there. Above the surface, several indicators inform us of the visible culture of an organisation through:
- Shared values
This is the formal way in which "we say we get things done." When organisations look to make changes in the way they work, products they sell or strategy they often look at these visible indicators. Data-driven decisions are made from the plethora of MI (Management Information) or HR systems that exist analysing these indicators.
But bad data going in means bad decisions coming out. Beneath the surface of the iceberg are large elements of organisational culture. These describe "the way we actually get things done" such as:
- Unwritten rules
Measuring the health of your organisational culture via traditional means like outdated engagement surveys won't get you far. These staged, intermittent and occasional activities do not engage with the day to day operation of the organisation. Instead, they create additional overheads and inefficiency which often become counterproductive to their original aim. When you give employees a huge stack of mass-produced survey questions, it distracts from their work. If, that is, they don't just ignore it completely.
I hear the problems. So what's the solution?
So, you want to build a better workplace, and you have an idea of what's stopping you. But as with any problem worth solving, the answer isn't simple. In a world where culture evolves and develops over the years, so too must an organisation. Getting your surface level approach in line with behaviours beneath the surface is a great place to start.
The aim of this process should be to break down organisational barriers which exist. These include hierarchy, time, communication or fear of failure and disclosure. It should add real short and long term value to the employee. It should also be tailored to their role, department or individual culture.
Removing formality and increasing employee exposure goes a long way to empowering teams and individuals. That's because it makes them more likely to generate new ideas and develop a growth culture which is infectious.
We've worked with customers in segments as diverse as finance, telecommunications, hospitality, and manufacturing. And we've found that using a simple but continuous engagement process which is rich in feedback enables the exposure of culture beneath the surface.
We recommend this process to include a mixture of open and closed questions. Just as importantly, managers must be able to tailor them to their team and employees. One essential element is to include a means for feedback and promotion of good work. In other words, you need to enable peer and senior management recognition.
To increase organisational transparency, employees should be encouraged to report risks and issues as soon as they identify them. Providing a regular and simple means to do so ensures they don't get forgotten or lost in an email inbox.
These approaches allow employees to disclose information and allow a culture to align and develop across the organisation.
The best way to build a better workplace is through a modern employee engagement platform. There are a few on the market, but we at Weekly10 have designed our platform around this exact need. It can help you reach beneath the surface of your organisational iceberg. And beyond that, it will help replace outdated engagement and goal setting processes with one simple, easy to adopt process.