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The Ultimate Guide to Recovering Company Culture

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March 15, 2022

It’s hard to keep a culture thriving. There are changes constantly – in products, people, external factors, internal factors – so it’s hard to keep a culture consistent.

Here’s the sitch:

Over the last 3 months, I have been approached on multiple occasions by HRDs and CEOs who are concerned about the lack of morale in their business. These businesses had previously been thriving with motivated people and leaders, but now not so much.

Usually, these people leaders think that the issue is due to remote working, and getting everyone back to the office is the answer. And it’s easy to see why. Culture and engagement have been hard to maintain over the last 2 years. It’s difficult when the work is dispersed and natural communication opportunities are no longer there.

Added to this is the ‘Great Resignation/Re-Shuffle/Re-Set/Realisation’ (depending on how optimistic you are feeling about it!). Whatever way you look at it, the numbers of leavers are indicating that people are looking for a better culture. If this is happening in your business, you are likely to be struggling.

People are being clear about what they want – where they work, what they do, how they do it, who they work for (and what they stand for) and with whom they work. If it doesn’t align or they don’t believe that their experience with the company is going to get better – they are likely to leave.

All thought leaders keep banging on about culture – but what actually is it?

The culture within a business is the reason that people join, stay, engage or leave their jobs.

In short, it’s:

  • “How we behave”
  • “What we do when no one is looking”
  • “The way things are done around here”

Good cultures can mean different things to different people. Some companies cultivate a hard-driving, achievement-focused, culture. Other companies harbour a community-focused culture with lots of feedback and collaboration. Some companies are set up to encourage technical, careful and low-risk decisions based on evidence and logic. 

It’s important that both individuals and companies know and understand the culture so that both can seek one that suits them. For me, I have had more success hiring people based on suitability for the culture than their attributes and skills.

Naturally, there are some elements of a culture that is fundamental for all companies to ensure the right results for employees, customers, and all stakeholders:

  • Clear sense of mission
  • Employee voice
  • Integrity & honesty
  • Valued roles that contribute to the success of the company
  • Consistency
  • Response to change
  • Healthy conflict resolution

These should be at the core of a culture, together with a clear understanding of the ‘vibe’ and how behaviours are aligned.

Where does it go wrong?

It’s hard to keep a culture thriving. There are changes constantly – in products, people, external factors, internal factors – so it’s hard to keep a culture consistent.

There may have been a great culture previously, but now it’s not there. Or perhaps a culture hasn’t been cultivated yet in a newer, smaller company.

Consider these, and see if it applies to your company:

Many people have been hired during the pandemic and this has created a challenge. If you’ve been able to get your new starters set up with their laptops and phones on their first day – you are already a step ahead! However, the challenge is getting your new employees on board and engaged in the work and behaviours of your company. It’s the unwritten rules that are harder to embed!

Even your employees that have been with you for aeons, have been away from natural and spontaneous interactions that help shape behaviours and give role models and opportunity to, well, model! They may not be clear on what is acceptable and what isn’t – especially if you are moving to hybrid.

It could also be that the problem isn’t your culture, per se, but perhaps a lack of one entirely. This can happen when people are unclear about what the mission is and the role they play within it. If people don’t know what’s important, and how to communicate and behave, they may withdraw entirely.

What about leaders?

People understand culture through their experience with leaders and teammates. Companies are reporting that silos are prevalent within their organisations and even a new trend of silos within silos. This happens when teams have lost connection with other teams within their department, or from other colleagues from around the business. This isn’t unique to remote working and happens when toxic behaviours go unchecked or new leaders aren’t supported. 

It becomes fragmented when one team’s experience with their leader is perceived as different to another’s. This creates a culture where people have a hard time pulling together – everyone is working hard, but not in the same direction. Think of it as a rowboat – if there isn’t someone at the front providing the rhythm, motivation and adjusting the course when the waters get choppy – then the oars are going to be dropped and lost forever in the murky undercurrent.

How would this appear?

It could be that your once-great culture has lost its way. You may have relied on quarterly ‘townhalls’ or conferences to remind employees of their shared purpose, recent achievements and updates on the company’s wins or new products/services etc. So many companies have done great work transitioning to online events, and have been incredible at giving employees an outlet and sense of community through online activities – particularly in the lockdowns. 

A highlight for me was setting up and running a radio station for colleagues during 2020 with prizes and recognitions and top tunes. Good tunes and good times! However, this is unlikely to sustain a good culture in the long term on its own. Of course, there a huge benefits to being around people and there are huge benefits to remote working – especially in this period of time with fuel prices shooting up. This is why hybrid is attractive – but there still need to be a purpose whether at home or in the office.

How to get your culture back – or create a new one for a new era

You can take action to move toward a healthy, strong and sustainable culture.

Be clear on where you are at – and where you want to be.

Like everything, you have to know where you are in order to improve. You can assess your culture using a People Efficient Culture Health Check, or engage with our consultants to do it for you. Once you understand your biggest opportunities for change you can take constructive action to improve.

 Some clear indicators that your culture may not be healthy:

  • Leaders don’t spend time with their teams
  • Senior leaders stay behind closed doors
  • Leaver rates start rising
  • Projects or change take a long time to embed
  • Time taken to deal with complaints
  • Multiple policies and complex procedures – and a trend for introducing more policies when things go wrong
  • Grievances around leadership
  • Accusations of bullying
  • A leadership team that works in silos 

Make sure everyone knows the culture

Most of culture is hidden – like the proverbial iceberg. You may not always ‘see’ culture, but you can ‘feel’ it through behaviours, assumptions, collaboration, and collaborations. Raise things above the surface of the water by talking about what you value regularly, and by reinforcing the behaviours you want to see. Discuss feedback and celebrate success. Be really clear about what matters, why you do what you do in the way that you do it and what success looks like. This will reinforce positive behaviours and ensure people know what it looks like when they get it right.

Hold People Accountable

Culture is often determined by the worst behaviour it will accept. I’m going to say that again. Culture is often determined by the worst behaviour it will accept. So, if you promote a culture that values and respects people, but you allow that one person that brings in tons of sales or has lots of contacts to treat others disrespectfully, expect problems. Or if you want a culture that champions excellence and performance, but there’s that one team member who consistently under-performs (but is super-nice!), expect a lack of motivation. People pay attention to inconsistency in expectations, so manage performance when it isn’t up to scratch and celebrate/reward when it is.

Hire carefully – and not in haste

Yep – been there! More than once! When times are tough it’s hard to remember that hiring the wrong person is even harder than being without someone in the role. Be careful to evaluate their fit not just their skills. Bear in mind where you want the company to be going and how they can adapt and stretch the business and not just what they can bring right now. Ensure diversity and new perspectives, and try to establish from your candidates those who can perform well with others and contribute to your future business as well as today.

If you get the right culture that fits with your business, with people that believe in the shared purpose you will get united people and teams that will bring you success.

It’s worth taking the time to evaluate where you are and where you want to be.

Kate Maddison-Greenwell, founder of People Efficient, is an expert in the Organisational Design, Digital Transformation and HR fields, using her knowledge of Agile, Scrum and Kanban to help companies reimagine how HR gets done.

Her background leading complex projects on employee engagement, employee experience, culture, wellbeing, project management and employee relations with clients such as Commonwealth Games, BMW, Channel 4 and Lee Stafford, have helped leaders to put their people at the front and centre of their business strategy.

Kate uses her Masters level in HR, Agile and Scrum qualifications to help leaders respond to change at pace and build transparent, efficient and people-centred cultures. She is an energetic, digitally focused and an innovative facilitator, podcast host and keynote speaker; as well as a passionate advocate for equality and developing other HR practitioners. Kate utilises her platform, which includes a top performing HR podcast, to encourage HR leaders to join the HR (R)Evolution and transition to the next phase of modern HR.

You can find Kate on Linkedin at

Or check out the HR Director’s Cut podcast – number 4 on the top 100 HR podcasts globally