Workplace diversity and organizational culture: Getting everyone on the same page
How do your employees perceive your brand values and mission statement, and how much do they believe in them? (Shutterstock)
Culture is about building on where you’ve been, where you are today, and where you’re going tomorrow. If your employees are aligned around shared values or a shared mindset it’s accepted that you’ll have higher retention and engagement than if they are not.
But where does culture come from, how do you measure it and how do you shape it?
*Where does culture come from?
When a company is founded, more often than not the new culture is a reflection of the broader society fused with the ideals of the leadership team. When this company is family-controlled, like many MENA businesses, family-values will play a central role in the internal culture — offering a compelling and potentially unique story to new customers.
But over time, as organisations grow and workforces become less homogenous, this internal culture must evolve and be defined in a more meaningful way — and this isn’t easy.
The UAE has some of the most diverse workforces seen across the entire world. At last count, 87 per cent of the country’s population is expatriate — and bring to the region their own values, languages and ethics. When walking into a business meeting in the UAE, there is a 75 per cent probability that the person you meet will have a different ethnic background and a 66 per cent probability that they will have different cultural norms to you.
Nationality is high on the political agenda in most Middle Eastern countries, but short-term economic growth is reliant on how well your company can manage cultural diversity and unify its workforce. In order to diagnose the scale of the problem and align your employees it is important to get facts and remove any guesswork.
How do you measure culture?
In order to get robust insights, you should speak to a representative cross-section of employees; across all levels, geographies, departments /vocations, tenures, ages, races, religions and genders. The best way to do this is with a quantitative survey across the entire employee base.
1. The first dimension to measure is how the culture is perceived by the specific employee; both in relative terms (deemed better, the same or worse than similar businesses) and in absolute terms (agreement with possible descriptors). This will paint a picture of the strengths and weaknesses, and the amount of variation between responses will also reflect the degree of diversity and fragmentation.
2. The second dimension is what your employees know about your brand values and mission statement. We can measure this in two ways — the first is claimed/self-assessed knowledge, where the employees rates their confidence explaining the values. The second is proven knowledge, where the employee is tested to correctly recall the actual values.
3. The final dimension is how emotionally committed the employees are to your brand values and mission statement — the extent to which they personally believe in them. This is another way for us to identify the groups who are being engaged and included, versus those who are potentially excluded, and scale the problem.
How do you shape culture?
By measuring knowledge and commitment discretely, you will have a good idea whether your focus needs to be education or engagement, and top-down or bottom-up. But to really move from insight to action, informing actual strategies, initiatives and behaviours, you must measure inputs and outputs of engagement in the employee survey.
Analytical models can then help us to identify how to drive cultural alignment, and quantify the tangible returns of your efforts.
For cultural organisational unity, we know that one shared, unifying purpose is essential. When all employees pull in the same direction and recognise how their work contributes to this purpose, your organisation is more likely to have a strong, sustainable and scalable culture.
Communication is also an important driver of cultural alignment. Both in terms of what you say — having the right brand values, building a compelling story — but also how you say it — being clear and single-minded. Furthermore, transparent, open, two-way communication is most likely to increase inclusion among the more polarised groups within the organisation.
MENA companies are less likely than those in the West to have policies designed to remove gender restrictions or encourage accelerated progression for high performers. This can result in cultural fragmentation, meaning empowerment is often a key lever.
However, the most important signal to transform internal culture is often management behaviours — do the leadership team and CEO live the brand values and act in a way that inspires unity? Commitment to cultural transformation must come from the top-down, and a fact-based research approach often provides the most impactful mechanism for building consensus among your organisation’s leadership.
By Ben Osborne