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Why do 87% of people say that they are not engaged at work?* We know that when people are engaged in their work they are happier, more productive and don’t change jobs. All leaders want their organisation to be a great place to work because they know it has an impact on the business’s performance. We know culture matters, but few organisations know how to review, modify or change their organisational culture.

If we look at organisations with winning cultures, it’s not the football tables, free fruit and away days that people value, it’s how they are treated every day. Does your business define, communicate but most importantly live its values? One of the tests I use with leadership teams is to ask them to name 10 examples in the last three months when their values have been used to help with a business decision. Have they been used to make a hiring decision, or to decide who gets a promotion or pay rise?

Adapt or Die
As markets get disrupted by new competitors and new technology, businesses need to be able to adapt to their changing environment. Often it’s the ability to pivot at pace which is the precursor of business success. This is why creating an adaptive culture is so important today.

Adaptive organisations will have some common traits: they will be innovative, they will constantly be experimenting to explore different ways in which they can provide customer value, they will always be looking for better ways to do things.

This quest for continuous improvement will be a core, repeatable behaviour. Adaptive organisations also have strong leaders who define the purpose of the organisation, as well as the goals. In my experience, most organisations are over-managed and under-led. Leaders empower and motivate, managers control and direct.

Shifting culture
There are some key building blocks in moving towards an adaptive culture. The science shows that organisations with clarity of purpose, that live their values every day and allow people direct control over their work are more

responsive and agile. This agility enables them to adapt to customers’ changing expectations and so out-perform their competitors on every financial metric.

Leaders focus on culture
Those leaders that consistently deliver great results, regardless of how the world around their business changes, will understand how to develop, enhance and then reinforce a culture that gets the most from their people.

The great value in purpose and defined values is that they are guides, they allow the people within the organisation to have the freedom to make decisions and on occasions, correct their course. But importantly they also encourage people to be as self-directed as possible - adaptive cultures create trust. You don’t need layers of managers and bureaucracy if you provide leadership guidelines (purpose and values) and allow teams to make their own decisions.

An ongoing challenge
A culture isn’t static, it evolves over time but it can be destroyed quickly. Leaders must protect the business purpose and values, the very essence of the culture and thus avoid it being degraded.

Leaders love to claim their organisation is nimble – in fact this means an organisation with decentralised decision-making. No business with a top down culture can be nimble or adaptive - it’s that simple. The adaptive and nimble have a clear purpose, a set of unique values and then get out of the way of their people as they respond to customers wants and needs.

*Gallup, State of the Global Workplace, 2017 

Kevin Green has written a new book entitled Competitive People Strategy: how to attract, develop and retain the staff you need for business success, published by Kogan Page

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