Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Company culture matters. And so does the culture of your audience

By Dovilė Buinickaitė, HR Director LT, WE & US, Adform

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices

The research of big consulting companies such as Gartner and McKinsey proves that 70% of transformations fail because of cultural issues. 

This year, MIT published two articles on toxic culture with a conclusion that it’s 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation. Data suggests time and time again there is a positive correlation between healthy culture, performance and higher returns to shareholders. But to get all the benefits and avoid losses, leaders need to know what common behaviours and mindsets influence how people work and interact every day. Still, many companies do not get it. 

Many companies and leaders do not get it. Sometimes, including me! I was originally planning to write an article about something entirely different – how to define a company culture and how to navigate when changes happen – but based on a recent experience of mine, talking to over 100 leaders online on the topic “How culture helps to create great results” in my home country, I decided to change the subject. 

Leading up to the event, I’d failed to study my audience’s culture. I came prepared with good content, tested in other open HR conferences (on-site – where different behaviours are witnessed) and took for granted that my content would resonate, but I hadn’t taken enough time to understand the audience’s unique perspective. Because every audience has one.

As a result, I heard, for the first time in my professional career, that what I’d shared was… “bullshit”. There were a few comments about jargon and my poor knowledge of Lithuanian. I felt beaten for the next couple of days. Yet, it was an important time for reflection: I’d completely forgotten about the bubble I was living in. 

For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been taking part in the In Practice makes Unperfect program. In it, we are taught to get to know our audiences, whether we are panellists or interviewees or giving a keynote speech. To think about the experience from their perspective. Arvind Hickman, media editor for Campaign Magazine and chair of hundreds of panels, told us “know your audience.” To think about why your audience paid money or spent their time learning from your expertise, which means never using jargon and always tailoring your content. Be the audience, we are taught.

Better knowledge of my audience and its culture could have made my speech much more successful and satisfying for everyone. I’ve learned my lesson and the losses are bearable.

But imagine if the same happened in your company. You are launching a strategic change program standing in front of your employees telling them all the benefits it can bring and how positively it will influence the way people work today, and what you get in a reaction is… “bullshit!” Or maybe you do not need to imagine? Is this something you experienced already?

Your employees do not want to change, do not recognize how structures or their behaviours will need to change, and do not have the skills for that. In this situation lessons are expensive and losses might result in the 70% of failed transformations mentioned above.

My 3 lessons when working with culture, be it audience or company, are:

·   BE your audience – when preparing your communication plan think of your audiences and channels and tailor content to them. Are you speaking to people managers or specialists? Think about what content engages your audience. Study and identify behavioural shifts needed for your transformation and make it personal. Personal is good (if you are a start-up, don’t start talking as a corporate), it creates trust. Role modelling behaviours will create more willingness for your employees to change. 

·   BE courageous and vulnerable – invite your audience to discuss, ask questions and challenge. But also realize that not having answers to all the questions is OK. Sharing that you do not know is much better than creating something that is not true on the spot. Share your successes and failures working with culture and different audiences, that will create more knowledge and might inspire the ones that still do not get why company culture is important. Creating a sounding board (group of employees with whom you will test your decisions and ideas) inside your company is another good idea, to have an inclusive transformation change journey. And hey, learn and have fun on the go.

·   BE structured – prepare, be consistent, and align on implementation principles – meaning consistency of your message, language, and visual presentation. Be consistent, but do not lose your authenticity, remember personal is good. Create an action plan for “soft” to be seen as important. Align on how you will measure the progress of your change, when you talk about it with your leaders and how often you will share that with your employees. Celebrate wins and adjust the plan when needed.

Company culture matters. Audience matters. Do you know yours?