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Culture Counts: Three Ways to Achieve Better Outcomes

Employees who describe their organization’s culture as healthy are more likely to collaborate with colleagues and less likely to leave their jobs. 

Imagine that today is the first day of your new leadership role at a federal agency. You’ve heard rumors the agency has a “culture problem.” Different offices don’t share information. Employees distrust managers. Absenteeism is at an all-time high. Your team works remotely across the country. Where do you begin to create change?

Take a hard look at the culture; it’s well worth it. Grant Thornton’s research with Oxford Economics drew a clear correlation between culture and overall organizational performance. We’re not talking about employee perks and trendy office incentives, but rather developing a culture of performance. Employees who describe their culture as healthy are 1.7 times more likely to say their team collaborates effectively and 2.4 times more likely to say they are unlikely to leave their job in the next year. In today’s competitive talent market, those numbers are significant. Changing the agency’s culture, though, only happens with concerted action.

Getting better outcomes begins with these three clear and concrete actions to create a culture of performance:

Invest in initiatives that matter. The first way executives can immediately improve culture is to assess and align core employee-facing processes, systems and environment to true motivators within their organization. The 2018 Grant Thornton-Oxford Economics study found that what executives perceive to be most important to employees does not always align with what employees think is most important. For example, 57% of executives in the study believed a pleasing workplace environment was critical to employee loyalty, whereas only 36% of employees said the same. Seventy-two of executives believed that investing in on-site amenities was important for the culture, whereas only 57% of employees agreed. 

It’s time to let go of pre-pandemic traditions. Our research identified five core elements that contribute to a healthy culture that drives business results: collaboration, training and development, communication and purpose, work-life fit, and benefits that matter. Get outcomes that matter by focusing on and investing in initiatives within these five areas. You’ll see significant return on investment from your investment in culture.

Monitor and measure culture health. The second critical step in improving culture is monitoring and reporting culture health milestones to understand whether you are driving to the outcomes you want. Seventy-six percent of executives say their organization has a defined value system that is understood and well communicated, but only 31% of employees believe this to be true. Sixty-nine percent of executives reported they don’t measure culture despite investing money and resources in culture initiatives. When we delve into why executives are not actively measuring and monitoring culture, we often hear the response that culture feels too difficult or too abstract to measure.

To ensure your culture is driving intended outcomes, take a holistic approach to evaluating culture that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative techniques to evaluate employee sentiment and its connection to key business metrics. By examining culture through multiple lenses, you can derive data-driven insights to prioritize initiatives and adaptation.

Use best practices for maximizing return on culture. To maximize return on investment on your culture change initiatives, establish momentum and drive sustainability with the following best practices:

  • Focus on behavior. In our experience, most organizations have documented, and can point to, the values that define their desired culture. High performance cultures, however, translate these values into behaviors and actions that provide clear guidance to employees on what “good” looks like.
  • Take ownership. When we ask people who owns culture within their organization, we often hear “culture is everyone’s responsibility!” While 93% of executives say they are attuned to company culture and have taken steps to strengthen it, a majority don’t actually take steps to measure culture. Without data to track culture-building initiatives, executives largely rely on guesswork to determine how investments are—or aren’t—paying off. Clear ownership of culture initiatives by an empowered business leader (who reports directly to executive leadership) establishes an important tone at the top and supports accountability.
  • Establish key performance indicators. When driving change, it’s critical to identify the key metrics that can be leveraged to track progress and desired impact. Establish key performance indicators upfront to stay focused on culture investments that translate to desired outcomes and what, if any, additional changes are needed to optimize your results.

For new leaders looking to get better outcomes at their agency, the bottom line is to proactively align and drive behavior that builds a culture that authentically reflects and supports the agency mission. By focusing on the actions here, you will be on the right path to understanding employee sentiment, balancing needs and perspectives, and creating lasting cultural change. And that gets you better outcomes every time.

Melissa Dimitri, Katherine Krause, and Jonelle Hilleary are leaders in Grant Thornton Public Sector’s Business Change Enablement practice, helping federal clients understand, define, build and track culture.