There is little doubt that developing, promoting and maintaining an attractive company culture is important for all businesses. Employees want to work in a place where they feel comfortable and appreciated, while employers want to ensure that top talent stays within the business.

But when it comes to company culture, are employees and employers on the same page? Do values differ depending on which side of the desk you sit? And, if a boss’s mindset is wildly different to that of his or her staff, is it possible to create a scenario that will ensure both parties are happy, content and able to work harmoniously?

The research

A study released by VitalSmarts in July of this year attempted to discover whether there is a gaping chasm between what employers believe their company culture is like, and what employees experience in their day-to-day lives.

The research assessed the views and opinions of 1,200 employees, managers and executives, and came up with some fascinating – and some may say worrying – conclusions. The results indicate that bosses are not only out of touch with what their employees believe is expected of them, but that they are not entirely aware of what they themselves truly yearn for.

The study discovered that employees have a far more negative view of their corporate culture than senior managers do; in fact, the research concluded that the more senior the individual, the more likely they are to perceive their company’s culture as positive.

According to VitalSmarts, senior figures say that what they value most from their employees is the ability to be innovative, to use initiative and to thrive when working as part of a team. However, when the employees themselves were asked what they believe is valued by their employers, they responded with words such as ‘obedience’, ‘predictability’ and ‘deference to authority’.

When probed, fewer than 1 in 10 (9%) employees said they have a favourable opinion of their own company’s culture, which in itself is an incredibly concerning statistic.

Listed below are some of the research’s other noteworthy discoveries:

  • Employees are 54% more likely than leaders to say that the company norm is to avoid conflict and maintain pleasant relationships
  • Employees are 53% more likely than leaders to say that the company norm is to conform, follow rules and make a good impression
  • Employees are 54% more likely than leaders to say that the company norm is to do what you are told and clear all decisions with superiors
  • Employees are 18% less likely than leaders to say that the company norm is to set challenging goals and pursue them with enthusiasm
  • Leaders are 67% more likely than employees to say that the company norm is to speak up immediately whenever there is a question of concern that could affect performance

Clearly, there is a gulf separating the views and opinions of the employers and their staff. A company’s culture is, generally speaking, supposed to reflect the attitudes of the organisation as a whole, and that’s not something that is likely to be achieved when employers and employees have such wildly differing perceptions of the company they represent.

The expert’s opinion

Speaking in the wake of the research’s publication, Joseph Grenny, who was part of the team that carried out the survey, said: “There is no way to close this gap without honest, open dialogue. Basically, people say their leaders hype one set of behaviours but reward another, and that gap in perception is the starting point for conversation. If leaders are seen as sending mixed messages about what they truly believe will drive performance, they should invite employees to point out this perceived hypocrisy.

“Leaders tend to think employees won’t open up, but we’ve seen the opposite. When an executive sits down and truly listens, employees will be surprisingly honest.”

Trust us, it’s important

Research carried out by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) earlier this year found that corporate culture is ‘key to sustainable growth’, and also concluded that a healthy in-house environment is ‘a source of competitive advantage and vital to the creation and protection of long-term value’.

The findings, established following a comprehensive study of 250 chairmen, CEOs and leading industry experts from some of the UK’s largest companies, also determined that business leaders, in particular CEOs and senior management, must represent the desired culture and ensure it is embedded in every aspect of the business if it is to become entrenched throughout the company.

Discussing the conclusions of the study, Sir Winfried Bischoff, Chairman of the FRC, said: “A healthy corporate culture leads to long-term success by both protecting and generating value in the UK economy. It is, therefore, important to have a consistent and constant focus on culture, rather than wait for a crisis. A strong culture will endure in times of stress and change.

“Through our research, it has become clear that establishing the company’s overall purpose is crucial in supporting and embedding the correct values, attitudes and behaviours.”

Here at Southerly we’ve written about company culture before – on a number of occasions, in fact – but that is only because it is a topic worth highlighting over and over again. A company culture that works for everyone can only be achieved through conversation and consistency, yet it is very obvious to see that numerous organisations are currently failing to take this on board

How to improve

While it is clear that this division exists within a number of businesses, there are certainly steps that can be taken to remedy the situation. The first, quite simply, must be for senior management to clearly define what they want their company culture to be, and then take steps to ensure it filters down throughout the firm. This could be by motivating employees through recognition schemes, or introducing events, programs and perks designed to reward staff for their efforts.

The goal, both for employees and employers, is to be part of an environment that will result in constructive and positive working outcomes. Would employees be motivated by a coffee machine being placed in the kitchen, or would they value a dartboard being put up in the break room? Or would members of staff appreciate being afforded more autonomy, or the ability to work from home more frequently?

By installing an unswerving company culture that suits your operations and mentality, your business will be able to attract the right people to help you push forward into the future. Recruitment campaigns will start to bring in only those people that value the environment your business offers, and they will then serve to reiterate the company’s values.

Darius Mirshahzadeh, president and co-founder of Endeavor America Loan Service, summed the whole concept of company culture up very well when he said: “Consider your employees as your first level of customers. Create a culture of reward, recognition and excitement for them, and you will see them strive to please their own customers.”