Hanover Client Event: "Creating a culture of excellence”

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ByHanover Team
Posting date: 25 March 2020

If you are interested in creating a culture of excellence, learning about its relevance and impact on business or hearing some key learning points from industry leaders then read our commentary on Hanover’s recent event.

Richard Waddell who heads up Hanover's LeadershipSolutions business was our speaker for a recent breakfast event. Richard spent 15 years in the military as a Regular and Reserve Army officer. He drew on his personal experience of working within a high performing team and a culture of excellence. This had the following three ingredients:

1.   Excellence was clearly defined from the very first day of training and consistently reinforced thereafter.

2.   Qualities and behaviours were genuinely role-modelled by leaders at all levels and they held each other accountable for doing so.

3.   Processes and tools supported a high-performance culture by providing clarity and flexibility whilst being applied in a consistent way.

Richard also used examples from the sporting world, focusing on the All Blacks – the most successful sports team in human history. However, even the greatest of heroes can fall from grace; they went from a culture of excellence to a toxic culture – demonstrating it is something you must continually monitor and adjust.

The All Blacks approach

The All Blacks had to reset their culture to put themselves back in a winning position, resulting in a hugely improved win-rate and several World Cup victories. 

Richard summarised the steps the All Blacks took to reinvent themselves:

• They recognised the need to challenge and change the existing culture - the leadership had the confidence and commitment to do this.

• They clearly defined their required (rather than desired) culture and placed a greater emphasis on the players and their decision making over the technical aspects of the game.

• They held people accountable for demonstrating positive behaviours and created a stronger link to the team’s heritage and purpose in representing New Zealand as a country, beyond the rugby pitch.

The impact of culture

From a business perspective, Richard reflected on how, whilst most organisations don’t have a ‘toxic’ culture, there are likely to be pockets of culture that are driving high performance and pockets that are having the opposite effect. 

These localised ‘climates’ and the culture they contribute to are driven by a number of different ‘levers’ including:

• Purpose and strategy

• Governance

• Incentives

• Ownership of culture

• Leadership

• Behaviour

• Communication

• Geography 

• Dominant leaders

• Organisational structure 

• Stories and symbols 

Some of these, such as incentives, are more tangible and are therefore easier to change; it’s more straightforward to measure their impact on engagement and culture. Others such as leadership and behaviour are harder to define.

Getting each of these levers right is difficult to achieve but especially critical in a context of change such as an acquisition, integration, new leadership team or other significant event. 

There are additional challenges too:

• Scaling your business and retaining the required culture as headcount grows, especially internationally where cultural variables become more of a factor.

• Finding and replicating examples of a positive culture elsewhere in your organisation whilst recognising the value of diversity and giving individuals the freedom to think, plan, behave and lead in different ways. 

• A lack of understanding amongst business leaders - studies have shown that whilst they recognise the importance of culture, the vast majority of leaders accept say they don’t fully understand it or what the ‘right’ culture is in their business.

Attendees were senior leaders from Financial Services organisations, many from FinTech businesses. What were their views?

• Businesses need to understand that culture is hard-linked to business performance

• You need proper role models who live and breathe the culture if you are going to affect any change

• Never look to change everything – focus on the fewest things that make the difference and then move on

• Our 'leaders' don't often realise the difference they can make, nor the influence they have on people

• Simplicity in messages is key

• Events and getting people involved at all levels encourages more alignment and commitment

• Communication is key – using workplace communications tools, intranet, Facebook workplace, WhatsApp for business, for example.

• Often complacency drives culture – using systems such as OKRs (additional 3-5 key objectives per quarter) are effective ways to encourage the required culture 

• Leaders set the tone, so ask yourself – "What should I be doing to get things moving in the right direction?"

• Revisiting values is important – leadership mindset must be fluid

• "Refreshing things" is important - the desired culture is what’s needed in a specific business phase e.g. high growth, consolidation, acquisition

• Creating a vision that people 100% buy into is key, especially in a start-up

• Recruit based on values more than technical skills, which can be added more easily

• Make sure the CEO and other leaders within the business are accessible, open and have the humility to accept feedback

• Develop a strong employer value proposition - you need and want cognitive diversity

• Understand the external perspective of your business and how others (including clients) see you

• Challenge yourself and the business - "What are we not talking about that we should be talking about?"

There was strong agreement that this is not an easy topic and many businesses face similar challenges. However, if you're successful in building and creating a culture of excellence, this is likely to deliver exceptional results for your business.

So how do we work with clients to help them understand and improve their culture? 

Hanover supports clients through a three-stage process:

1. Benchmark your current culture (with a strong focus on leadership and behaviours)

2. Define your required culture linked to business strategy

3. Support and incentivise culture and behaviour change over time

Benchmark your current culture

Comprehensive information gathering typically includes a blend of:

• Interactive workshops at all levels in your organisation

• Meeting observation

• Analysis of measurements – business and people

• Interviews with key leaders and influencers plus clients/customers

• Engagement and 360-degree feedback surveys

This step includes using existing information from employee and client surveys.

Define your required culture

Working with individuals and teams at all levels in your organisation we help you to:

• Decode your strategy to distil objectives into leadership behaviours and capabilities

• Define, validate or update values for your organisation

• Link positive culture to business results using real examples

• Benchmark externally against other high-performing organisations and their culture

• Integrate and enable diversity whilst providing employees at all levels with clarity about what’s expected and why culture is important

Support and incentivise behaviour change

Once you’re clear about the culture you require, you can work towards it by:

• Supporting leaders and other people in critical roles to evolve how they role-model behaviour in line with the culture they’ve defined (e.g. if innovation is critical, how are they demonstrating and encouraging this?)

• Integrating changes into talent management processes such as the way people are selected, developed, fed back to and performance managed. 

• Tracking progress and the impact of these changes to enable you to make adjustments and celebrate successes

Communication throughout is key - we work closely with you to position culture change in the right way and integrate it into ‘business as usual’ rather than as a standalone initiative. 

The bottom line 

Business leaders have seen the consequences of failing to improve poor culture or getting it wrong - staff become disengaged, retention is impacted and productivity goes down. 

Conversely, there are numerous benefits to getting it right. A positive culture is made up of engaged individuals and effective teams. This engagement leads to greater 'discretionary effort' which is what separates average from outstanding organisations and drives financial performance. 

If you’d like to find out more about how Hanover can support you to build a culture of excellence and high-performance, please get in touch:

Richard Waddell - richard.waddell@hanoversearch.com

Thank you to everyone who attended this event. If you are interested in participating in future events, please contact events@hanoversearch.com

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