What’s the ART to creating an authentic culture in organisations?

This article has been cross-posted from its original appearance in Issue 03 of the Women in Security Magazine.

Authors: Priyal Bhosale, Sophia Pace, Ian Yip

In a startup team members often have multiple responsibilities, despite having a core set of accountabilities. The right organisational culture, one that creates a sense of belonging, is crucial for people to thrive and grow in such a dynamic environment. It provides every member with a ‘why,’ drives motivation to achieve company goals, and drives commitment to staying around for the journey ahead.

Avertro is nearly two years old. We’ve more than tripled in size and continue to evolve daily. We wouldn’t have been able to grow at this pace sustainably without the right culture from day one. As with most meaningful endeavours, we’ve learnt some lessons, and it hasn’t always been easy. An organisation’s culture, positive or negative, starts with its leaders, and these are the core areas we focus on to ensure we maintain our culture.

Values

The authoring of Avertro’s organisational values pre-dates the formation of the company. Before we started, we were very clear about our goals and the culture that would get us there. Those values remain the same to this day.

The point is not to outline what they are. What matters is that having formal values clarifies the high standards each team member will be held to. Values articulate what the organisation stands for and set expectations that everyone can identify with. If an individual’s values do not align with those of the organisation they will never become a comfortable fit in that organisation.

Values form the foundations of the culture that will make an organisation unique and successful. More importantly, these foundations, built on the right core values, strengthen an organisation in times of adversity.

Accountability

You will, unfortunately, hear that many people have worked for large corporations where the culture and its formal values were primarily about virtue signalling and managing perception. Management in these companies never holds itself to the values it has set, yet expects everyone else to follow its directives.

Any team member working in an organisation like this will testify that it creates friction. It’s hard to believe in an organisation that may speak its values but does not act according to them. It creates distrust and a facade that no team member will buy into, jeopardising loyalty, productivity, and achievement of goals.

Safety

If leaders want employees to tell them what they really think, there needs to be trust that there will be no negative consequences. Leaders must not be afraid of candour and the truth.

Leaders are responsible for setting the tone, cultivating a safe space, and listening objectively, empathetically and without judgement. They must allow teams to solve problems together. Leaders who do not do these things will simply be told what they want to hear, and none of the systemic issues in an organisation will ever be addressed.

Creating an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up allows teams to perform effectively and gives them the confidence to fulfil their responsibilities.

A leader’s blind spots can only be illuminated by the trust the team they work with places in them.

Communication

The core of any great relationship is effective communication. The need to communicate effectively seems so obvious that leaders often forget to create an environment that is conducive to it.

A team that does not communicate cannot be effective. The real connections between people within an organisation form the fabric that holds its culture together. An abundance of these connections creates a rich, strong tapestry that wraps itself around the organisation and keeps everything together.

Diversity

Diversity and inclusion are critical. Unfortunately, some organisations are using the narrative to virtue-signal how they are “great places to work” because of their diversity, without being able to back this up.

It is often a challenge to figure out if an organisation truly embodies the principles that lead to diversity and inclusion, or is simply saying the right things because it is trendy to do so. This connects back to safety.

Organisations must allow people to be their true selves.We must acknowledge that we grow as individuals by working alongside others who are different from us, who we might sometimes not agree with, but who will make us better by challenging and expanding our perspectives on life, on work, and on how we think things should be done.

Leaders need to understand that building diverse teams and nurturing a sense of belonging starts at the beginning of any organisation’s journey and must always be front of mind; not when it’s convenient, or“when the organisation is ready”.

Empowerment

Many would be familiar with the advice to always “hire people more intelligent than yourself’. In reality, this is nearly impossible to do.

The more realistic way to approach this is for leaders to build teams where everyone can make full use of their individual skills. When employees are better than their leaders at a particular task, the best thing a leader can do is move out of their way.

Empowering people to do their jobs and to make the decisions they are best placed to make fosters abetter overall culture. Empowered people are valued, confident, and secure.

Identity

No one should ever feel they are being treated like a number. Everyone deserves to be treated as a unique individual.

The healthiest organisational cultures acknowledge that people perform functions within hierarchies and chains of command. However, except in a military context, hierarchies should be secondary to a team culture that recognises all are working together for mutual benefit to achieve a shared outcome.

Culture is ART

Fostering a positive culture takes effort and conviction. Sometimes, business decisions seem at odds with what appears to be the right course of action.

There are many ineffective leaders. Most are happy to talk the talk. Very few will walk the walk. This is because ineffective leaders are often the last ones to suffer from a hostile culture. They are typically insulated in their “executive bubble” until the organisation is about to crash, at which point they conveniently deploy their golden parachute to safety, unscathed and move on to a new role where they repeat the same mistakes.

An organisation can put all the right things in place to create a positive culture. But none of that matters if the leaders do not behave in an Authentic, Respectful and Transparent manner. Therein lies the ART of truly enriching the culture of any organisation.

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