Ann Paul (Q5) on building a healthy organisation culture

03 May 2022 6 min. read
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Building a healthy culture is essential for organisations, especially at a time when people are more than ever needing to adapt to new ways of working. But despite the many efforts by leaders, too many organisations still fail to realise a culture that supports the environment required to achieve their strategic goals. A discussion with Ann Paul from Q5 on how a healthy organisation culture can be nurtured.
With more than two decades of experience in human resources, organisation culture, leadership development, talent, and coaching, Ann is passionate about helping organisations shape and deliver the culture that supports their strategic goals.

At Q5, an international organisational health consultancy, Ann is a leader in the Organisation Development & Culture practice, delivering complex people and culture related projects.

Ann Paul Q5 on building a healthy organisation culture

Research over the years has confirmed the link between organisation culture and performance. What are some of the key benefits Q5 experiences in its work with clients?
We believe that building a healthy organisation culture drives performance, alignment and engagement and is a key differentiator for organisational success. It is what enables businesses to accelerate the execution of their strategy and galvanise their people for the future.

A healthy organisation culture also creates great places to work which helps people do their best work which is good for both the organisation and the individual.

Most organisations are currently revaluating their strategy for organisation culture. What are the main pillars that should be considered?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to organisation culture. Each organisation needs to find their unique culture which reflects their heritage context and ambitions, however through our work with organisations, we have identified five components that come up time and again and we believe contribute to a healthy organisation culture:

Psychologically safe
Encouraging people to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns and mistakes.

Growth mindset
Creating the conditions for your people to challenge, innovate, learn and grow.

Building your ability to deal positively with challenge and set backs at an organisation and individual level.

Allowing people to stay true to the organisation’s strategic aims whilst responding with agility to internal and external factors.

Creating a sense of belonging for all which drives engagement and performance enabling people to do their best work.

Driving change is notorious for its pitfalls and challenges. How can organisations best go about with implementing a new/different organisation culture?

Firstly, leaders need to be really clear on what they are trying to achieve. Without a clear view of the strategic aims of the organisation and the context within which its operating it’s impossible to identify the required culture to support this.

Secondly, leaders need to understand their current culture and identify which elements of that are helping them achieve their strategic ambitions and which are getting in the way. We strongly believe that where possible this should be done in an inclusive way, canvassing the views of colleagues to understand their experience and start to build interest and engagement. After this we can start to articulate what needs to change and to describe the target culture.

Getting leadership aligned on this is a key step in the process to ensure buy in and this involves both team and individual commitment as any form of culture change requires leaders and colleagues to shift their own individual behaviour.

Finally, the organisation needs a very clear and practical set of actions and interventions that will drive the change. Some of these will be quick and some longer term but all should be measured through a culture dashboard of both cultural and business measures.

Then, the implementation starts, supported by great communications and engagement activities and involving as many people from across the organisation as possible. Rarely does one large scale intervention do the job. Lighting lots of little fires across the organisation creates new conversations, different stories and the ability to shine a spotlight on real change as it happens.

After implementing an organisation culture, the real challenge starts: embedding and maintaining the culture. What tips do you have for leaders in this phase of the transition?

Over the past years, we have supported many organisations across sectors and geographies with their culture change. Here are our top five tips to consider in maintaining a healthy organisation culture:

Use an open approach: Empowering people to explore and define new ways of thinking and doing that make sense for them, in the context of their daily work drives genuine changes in behaviour.

Leader led, employee delivered: Whilst having an aligned leadership view of the direction you want your culture to move towards is critical, getting your employees to figure out how to go about making the change will drive engagement, commitment and action.

Ground it in real work challenges: Getting the organisation to recognise the challenges that need to be addressed in achieving the new culture, defining these problems and working through them in teams, drives action and a sense of tangible progress.

Develop your people along the way: Any organisational change creates the opportunity for development. Involving your teams in shaping and implementing the new behaviours and ways of working will build their skills in innovation, creativity, problem solving, influence and many more.

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate: Successful culture change starts with changing small habits that lead to big wins. Giving your teams the opportunity to experiment, learn and adapt keeps the whole organisation moving towards its target culture.

More information: To hear more from Ann Paul, join Q5’s upcoming webinar on the 26th of May on ‘What makes a healthy culture?’ Ann and a panel of expert speakers will be sharing their top tips and key watch-outs to drive and embed successful culture change.