Episode 55 of Talent & Growth brought us the dynamic duo of Dr Richard Claydon, Chief Cognitive Officer @ EQ Lab and Geoff Marlow, Executive Director, Aligned Agility.  

With so much emphasis being placed on building a business culture and making sure people align with the values we spend some time challenging some of the common beliefs around whether this is time well spent. In this episode we covered the impact of business culture on innovation, what motivated and inspires the workforce and does an emphasis on culture create a high-performing team. For more on this, read on. 

Is this culture, or the emphasis on culture that’s being pushed, conductive to a high performing and happy workforce in the manner that many companies believe? 

Dr Richard Claydon: I think the research generally shows it’s the opposite. Most of the research that I’ve seen around the world at the moment show that people are nor missing the organisational culture and in fact feel freed up by working from home. 

 Pre-existing research before COVID was very clear that if you’re a start-up, high commitment cultures predicted getting to IPO successfully. You could hire younger people who would come and join you and they would stay there for lower wages because they genuinely believe they are there to change the world. However, when you’ve got mature, complex organisations (across many countries, environments and many product lines) the research showed clearly that a high commitment culture predicted low growth and lot profitability. You need a much more diverse understanding of behaviours in order to create value. 

I think what we’ve seen over that last few years is that there needs to be a behavioural shift. Organisations have been left stripped of the skills that were behaviourally excellent in a COVID, networked environment and they turned back to something that was already not working. That’s the big challenge. When people respond to these espoused values on the walls with cynicism or apathy, this predicts depression and all kinds of low performing work endeavours. Cynicism is perhaps a little more protective- but you remain cynical while you’re looking for another job. Great for recruiters, but not necessarily what the company thinks it’s doing. I think you’ve got a lot a pre-existing evidence and it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.  

Let’s talk about values then Geoff. Businesses spend a lot of time working on these – is this time well spent? 

Geoff Marlow: The one word answer is, yes. However the more complex answer is that this idea of values is extremely seductive. We all know if we look inside ourselves we feel that the things that really motivate us are our values. So are we able to align with the things that we deeply believe? Are we able to self- actualise? Are we able to bring the best of ourselves into the things that we’re doing in our day to day work?  We know that even if the experience has been fleeting, if the answer has been yes then we feel more motivated and engaged.  

It’s a logical leap to suggest that if we could get everybody to be like that all the time then it would be wonderful. There is a genuine desire to create a workplace where people really would love to be there.  Senior management may have their eye on profitability and performance, but no one really sets out to create a horrible, unpleasant, self-destructive work environment.  

The problem is that people don’t understand what cultures is- every organisation has a culture but it’s almost never what they intended it to be. Culture is emergent, when you’ve been in an organisation for a few weeks or months, you pick up on the way things are done and pick up subtle clues, signals and signs- you’re tapped into the ‘vibe’ of the place. People see conflicting messages in how the values are carried out by staff. So organisations use their values to try to triangulate ‘the way we do things around here’. Organisations assume you define the culture and that dictates behaviour, whereas actually you create the conditions in which behaviour emerges. That behaviour, the way we do things around here, is the culture.  

To listen to the full episode click here. 

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