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The Culture Perception Gaps Between Executives and Employees

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Gaps Between Executives and Employees

Are you aware that there’s also a Culture Perception Gap?

I’ve written and spoken many times about the CX Perception Gap (aka Bain’s Delivery Gap), but there’s not much said about the Culture Gap. Until now.

PwC recently released findings from their 2018 research among 2,000 respondents in 50 countries on workplace culture. The first shocking statistic is that 80% of employees feel that their workplace culture must improve significantly or a fair bit in order to succeed, grow, and retain the best people. That statistic compares to 51% only five years earlier (2013).

That’s not the Culture Perception Gap, though.

The first Culture Perception Gap statistic PwC uncovered states that 71% of C-suite and board respondents believe that culture is a priority on the leadership agenda of their organizations, while only 48% of non-management employees agree.

Another Culture Perception Gap: 63% of C-Suite and board respondents believe their culture is strong (“what we say about culture is consistent with how they act”), while only 41% of employees agree.

So, employees believe that culture needs to improve but they don’t necessarily agree that it’s a priority for their leadership teams or that it’s as strong as their leadership believes. This isn’t surprising. There’s often a disconnect between what leaders think they’re doing or prioritizing and what employees are observing or feeling. Sadly.

Perception is reality. Rather than lamenting the obvious, it’s time to put together a plan on how to close that gap.

Here are five things that PwC proposes you do:

1. Identify and address where culture and strategy clash

We know that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a matter of fact, PwC found that 65% of leaders agreed that culture is more important to performance than strategy or operating model. But, in reality, if they (culture, strategy, and operations) are misaligned, there’s a lot of confusion, and any type of culture transformation you hope to achieve will be doomed from the start. An example they provide is if you aspire to be a culture of curiosity and innovation but compensate based on following processes and procedures.

2. Establish or change listening tours

If you’re not already talking to employees, get to it. If you are, but you’re not asking the right questions, then it’s time to change it up. PwC advises to: challenge and foster healthy debate and real feedback from people across departments and across levels. Establish a Culture Committee, a group of employees who have a ground-level view of “how things work around here.” They are a group of cross-functional employees who meet to identify, discuss, and plan ways to promote and to drive the desired culture throughout the organization. They already live the core values and model the behaviors you want to see throughout the organization. Listen and engage them to design and establish the culture you desire.

3. Identify the critical few behaviors that will shift your culture

As you know, a culture transformation is a slow and massive effort. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is for everybody – unless you’re Zappos, Southwest, or one of only a handful of other brands who’ve got it down. So first identify the culture you desire, and then pick 3-5 behaviors (low-hanging fruit) that you can focus on to start the shift at every level of the organization. One exercise that I would strongly recommend, if you haven’t yet done it, is to look at your core values (you’ve got them defined and communicated, right?) and define examples of behaviors that are “appropriate” for each one. And then, for each, specify desired outcomes. Then share with all employees and include in your orientation/onboarding.

4. Step into the show-me age

Quite simply: leaders must model the behaviors they wish to see. They are not exempt. As a matter of fact, what they allow, they accept; what they allow will continue. This quote from Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell, says it all: The culture of the company is the behavior of its leaders. Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate. You change the culture of a company by changing the behavior of its leaders. Amen. So, to follow on to the concept in #3 about defining the behaviors for each core value, the next step is for leaders to demonstrate these behaviors. Employees won’t believe it until they see it. Then when you start seeing employees exhibit the “right” behaviors, recognize and reinforce. Employees should do the same for each other. Keep it going.

5. Commit to culture as a continual, collaborative effort

Just like any transformation effort, a culture transformation is ongoing and evolving, but it must also be collaborative. As you can see from #4, it’s not one person making this shift; there’s leadership modeling the behaviors that will eventually drive a grassroots groundswell to drive the change.

Related: The Biggest Showstopper in Customer Experience Transformation

One final Culture Perception Gap from this study. Employees want a workplace they can be proud of. PwC found that 72% of C-suite and board members believe that culture is a strong reason people join their organization. They didn’t provide the employee counterpoint. But, they did note this gap: 87% of C-suite and board respondents are proud of their workplaces, but only 57% of employees agree.

There you have it: three Culture Perception Gaps that scream disconnect between executives and employees. Businesses have their work cut out for them. You’ve got five ideas to start moving in the right direction. Get to work! And if I can help in any way, just let me know.

Culture is like a baby. You have to watch it 24/7. Needs to be fed at least three times a day. And when it makes a mess, you have to clean it up and change it. -Dan Guerrero, UCLA Athletic Director

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