Embracing the culture paradox

By Cathy Byrne

In our latest thought leadership research, ReputationInc is exploring the interplay between culture and reputation.

We want to get under the skin of culture – how do people define it, is it really an organisational priority, what are the some of the challenges and opportunities related to building a healthy culture, and who owns culture (if anyone). And obviously as reputation management specialists we’re keen to hear what people have to say about the connections between culture and reputation.

We shared our interim findings with a group of Human Resources, Organisational Change and Communications experts earlier this week, at an event headlined by Abby Guthkelch from Facebook and Lucy Leverett from the Coca Cola Company. We’ll be publishing the final report next month, but here’s a taster of a couple of insights we’ve landed on so far to spark your interest…

By any other name…

What’s become clear is that there is a culture paradox. Culture is rising up the corporate agenda, as organisations and companies increasingly recognise that a healthy culture drives business success. Moreover, in recent years, it’s encouraging to see that culture, normally the preserve of the HR Director, is now the focus of investor and board scrutiny. Yet being seen to ‘manage’ culture in an organisation doesn’t play out well internally. As one of our participants commented “as soon as something is labelled ‘culture’ within the company, people tend to switch off or get sarcastic.”

So think about the levers of culture in your organisation. How do your colleagues share feedback in real time to bring about change? What are the informal channels that can help you understand the best and the most limiting aspects of your culture? How do leaders and managers show up? Are they equipped with the rights skills and competencies to encourage dialogue and act in a way that fits the desired culture?

The key takeaway is that to nurture a healthy culture in your organisation you need to embrace the culture paradox. Make a conscious decision to build the right culture for your business but place emphasis on the levers that drive culture rather than putting the spotlight on ‘culture.’

Dispelling the ‘employee happiness’ myth

A myth that participants in our study wanted to dispel could be summarised as follows: “Keep your employees happy, and culture will drive itself”. A sole focus on employees to drive culture can lead to a potentially damaging form of cultural insularity: employee engagement and motivation could be sky-high, but the way the business operates could still fall short of stakeholders’ expectations, therefore creating a reputation risk for the company.

Increasingly culture is framed not just by those on the inside, but by the expectations and perceptions of external stakeholders, as we’ve seen with the latest corporate governance changes. Resilient cultures are those that are built to serve the interests of all stakeholders, so there is a clear link between your internal culture and your reputation. As one of our participants commented “culture is the cause and reputation is the effect.”

So think about your reputation ambition. What do you want to be known for and how do you want to be seen? Gather regular intelligence on what your culture is, how to dial up the positives and deal with the more challenging aspects of your culture to build reputation equity and support business success.

There’ll be more to come next month. We’re keen to hear additional views and insights from HR, Organisational Change or Communications experts working inside organisations or companies. If you are interested in taking part in our research, then please do get in touch.


Cathy Byrne and Jeremie Guillerme

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