Measuring and Changing Workplace Culture in Africa
WorkXO Africa launched in June with the arrival of Jackie Palmer and Tim Willard as directors. Both have deep business experience in leadership and consultancy roles in South Africa and beyond, and look forward to applying the Workplace Genome®, a cloud-based model to measure workplace culture, to a thriving new market.
Palmer’s background is in organizational psychology, and she has held a number of management roles in HR and education. She runs ConsultUp, which helps develop inspirational leadership through personal and professional growth. Willard has worked in marketing for brands like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson and research with Nielsen. In 2002 he joined a startup disrupting the market tracking business in Africa, selling to what has become IRI in 2006. Since then he has consulted on executive leadership development across Southern Africa through his own firm, navigate.
We talked with them about why getting culture right is important to the success of an organization, and how you can measure and change it.
Starting vs. Changing Culture
Palmer defines workplace culture as “the spirit of the organization — the behaviors, the daily activities, the rhythms, the communication processes, the values.”
“There’s no right or wrong culture. But I think it’s the one that helps an organization thrive and succeed,” she says.
Having been involved in both startups and established organizations, she says it’s much easier to establish a culture than change an existing one. But both scenarios present their own set of challenges.
When a company is small, culture is something that develops organically through the goals set and decisions made by the startup team. But as more people come on board, the culture can spiral off on its own without a plan. Some say you need a cultural roadmap when you hit 50 employees; others think it’s 15.
“Lots of organizations don't think strategically about culture and how that influences the kind of people they hire and retain, and what they prioritize and focus energies on, and how important it is to align that with the bigger picture,” she says.
For established companies, it’s important for leadership to be transparent and communicate constantly about the culture they’re trying to achieve. The biggest roadblock to changing culture is people who are change-averse or fearful of how a shift could affect their positions. “Culture determination or strategy determination is not an event, it's an ongoing cycle,” Willard says.
The biggest mistake organizations make with regards to culture is ignoring it — not thinking about it, not making conscious choices of what they want it to be, not communicating all that to their teams.
“There's no one-size-fits-all as relates to culture. It's different for each organization. But the choices you make, whatever you choose, must be intentional,” Willard says.
Culture is often determined by how the leadership of an organization sees itself. If they want to be innovative, then that drives who they hire and how they allocate resources. If it’s going to be a very customer-focused company, then sales and marketing might be in the forefront. The strategy can affect the culture, and vice-versa.
“I think about the interaction between culture and strategy as a bit like ice skating. One skate is strategy, the other skate is culture. And if you think about when people go ice skating, their legs go in opposite directions almost at right angles to each other, but you get forward motion,” Willard says.
To get the culture and strategy pumping in concert, it requires careful planning, buy-in from the workforce — and measurement.
Culture Is the Overlooked Metric
Organizations started talking about the importance of culture years ago, but in general terms. Now new tools like the Workplace Genome® allow them to analyze and measure culture in a way that wasn’t possible before. It helps them see where they are, and how far they are from where they want to be.
Willard says it’s time to start thinking about culture not as an abstract, but a key metric.
“Up until a very short while ago, we didn't really even think about the possibility of measuring culture. Now we can not only measure it, we are able to then think about how we can make changes and ultimately manage it,” he says.
“So for me, that's where Work XO's platform is going to make a significant impact, in giving organizations the opportunity to become a little more intentional about their cultures.”
Together, Palmer and Willard aim to create a new way of looking at workplace culture, by leading the WorkXO Africa effort at aligning organizations’ goals with their people, culture and strategy.