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February 1st, 2022

I was recently asked my opinion on a trend that seems to be emerging from the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on businesses and organisations.  The trend seems to suggest that people are ‘re-imagining’ not only their approach to work, for example, hybrid working, but also who they may be working for.

It’s fair to suggest that in the past similar trends have appeared, for example from a generational perspective i.e. Baby-boomers, Xers, Millennials, Zs, etc. but this latest trend now seems to be pan-generational.

Obviously, people in many organisations were, and in some instances still are, working from home in a bid to manage the ongoing spread of the virus and its variances.  It’s also true though that many people, in many types of organisations have not had their working method affected, whilst around them, their friends, families, and communities have.  Either way, there appears to be a response to this situation that is important for organisational leaders to consider.

A UK ONS report suggests that of working adults currently homeworking, 85% wanted to use a “hybrid” approach of both home and office working in the future.

Business and individual attitudes towards the future of homeworking, UK: April to May 2021

Potentially more worrying for organisational leaders is that people appear to be taking the chance to evaluate their work altogether. Whilst the US and the UK are not necessarily a barometer for all economies, trends do appear to be emerging.  A recent report in the US published in The HR Director The Great Resignation – will it get worse in 2022, it doesn’t have to suggest that 73% of workers are considering leaving their jobs this year.  Looking at the UK, similar surveys also found that three in four would look for new work in 2022.

Clearly, if this is in any way accurate, the onus is now on organisations and leaders to retain their talent.

So, what can leaders do to build a culture that is engaging and helps people want to stay?

Bourton Group has been working in this space for over 50 years.  Our views are based upon the need to balance the high performance of the organisation, with an engaged culture that develops a sense of employee belonging and contribution.

Working with clients to help them transform their organisations has provided Bourton Group with an excellent opportunity to develop more specific definitions of the key elements of any organisation’s culture.   Over the years, we have identified four main dimensions:

1.  Structures and procedures

This area describes the overall design of the organisation, the reporting structures within it, and the nature of the individual roles/responsibilities throughout. This dimension incorporates the hard aspects of an organisations culture and its policies and procedures for:

  • How you set targets
  • How you measure and reward performance
  • How you help people to learn/develop
  • What formal channels are available for communication
2.  Communications and information management

This is concerned with information and ideas, and determines how effectively information flows up, down and across the organisation.  In the developing post pandemic world, people will be particularly attuned to what and how they engage with organisational information as well as ways in which successes are acknowledged, and people’s contributions recognised.

3.  Relationships

This dimension describes the nature of the interactions between people vertically and horizontally across the organisation.  People’s relationships at work are characterised by their behaviour towards each other; the things that people say or do or don’t say or do in the workplace.   Formal positional power, authority, technical expertise, shared purpose, knowledge, and political influence can define relationships; however, post-pandemic structures and ways of working may result in the hierarchy being flatter, and decision-making being task-related and quicker.

4.  Style

This captures the least quantifiable characteristics of an organisation’s culture; unofficial rules and practices influencing ‘how we do things around here’.  An organisation’s cultural style is highly influenced by the values and beliefs of its people, both spoken and unspoken.  The organisation’s style is unlikely to be described in a staff handbook or to be formalised in any sense but will be understood and recognised by everyone.

Post pandemic organisational style will become apparent across a range of people-related issues, including:

  • How well being is managed
  • The lived values and approach to diversity
  • Performance measurement/feedback
  • Engagement in change
  • Individual learning and development

These four dimensions are manifested across a continuum from a highly traditional ‘command and control’ culture to increasing participation/employee involvement and ultimately mature engagement or empowerment.

Whilst there is no one perfect template for a culture that will work for every organisation.  If the suggestion is true that in the UK, three in four employees would look for new work in 2022, we will need to build and maintain cultures that engage and empower, whilst working a somewhat ‘hybrid’ model.

Some degrees of empowerment is more suitable for some organisations and not others.  However, aligning across the four dimensions appears to be a key factor in influencing how well the overall culture supports the business needs.  If Structures and Procedures reflect an empowered culture and yet Communication and Information Management are highly traditional, then this is likely to hinder rather than help people feel aligned to the organisation.

Understanding the main dimensions contributing to overall culture can help organisations to make the seemingly intangible more tangible. Being clear on what you need and want, both for the organisation and the individual and then ‘sizing the gap’ is a way that helps organisations (and teams) to describe as an apparently intangible task – ‘making our future culture work’ – in concrete terms and can provide a ready-made agenda for change.

One thing for certain is that if we do nothing as leaders, we will sleepwalk into the future of our organisations looking backward on how it needed to be before COVID-19.  Wise leaders are clear on their direction and invite organisations to shape how things will be.  Seize the opportunity to do the thinking… then make a change.

Mike Notman, Managing Partner

Mike is a highly experienced change and organisational development specialist and has delivered significant change programmes.

Mike focuses on developing organisational structures, leaders, and corporate cultures to improve efficiency and effectiveness in business and operational performance.

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