The Value of Behaviours

Harnessing the power of the behaviours that underpin your culture can energise employees and unleash enormous potential in your organisation.

Organisational culture is hard to define. It is complex and unique to each organisation – there’s no such thing as a universally ‘good’ or desired culture. However, there is broad consensus that it encompasses a company’s norms and traditions, values (lived and espoused) and behaviours.

What can also be agreed is that culture has a significant role to play in determining success.

Here at Innovation Arts we’re fond of the familiar phrase ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ because we’ve seen first-hand how organisational objectives can be thrown off-course by culture. We understand that the most successful organisations have cultures that are aligned with strategic ambitions and supported by strong leadership. Moreover, such organisations have coherent mission, vision, purpose and values; all of which is underpinned and reinforced by a set of acceptable or desirable behaviours.

We’ve found that it’s useful to zero-in on these behaviours as a way to create, maintain or foster a desired culture. And that it helps to provide tangible contexts and scenarios in which culture can be discussed in terms of behaviour.

For instance, many organisations are increasingly prioritising wellbeing and seeking to foster a positive workplace culture by reinforcing behaviours that support mental and physical health and prevent burnout, absenteeism and high turnover. However, this can be challenging for businesses with performance-oriented, high-intensity, long-hours cultures. It’s a paradox, a dilemma, at odds.

So how to work through?

In our work with organisations, we find that employees are less likely to question the expectation of ‘always-on’ availability unless they are given permission or provided with alternative courses of action that are explicitly supported from the ‘top down’. The desired behaviour here, therefore, might be to set limits around hours of availability, seek flexibility, request time-in-lieu, etc.

It can also be useful to reflect on elements of culture that may be identified as problematic, such as harmful or toxic behaviours. If an organisation has a culture of bullying behaviour which runs counter to its core value of ‘respect’, we’ve found that it is helpful to upend assumptions about what is and isn’t acceptable by creating space for sensitive conversations between all levels of the organisation, empowering employees to challenge behaviours they might previously have accepted as just part of the ‘way things are done around here’. This is especially important when employees receive mixed messages from middle management about what does and doesn’t constitute bullying.

Desired behaviours should be encouraged and discussed in an holistic way across the organisation, from HR processes (recruitment, induction, performance management, incentive and reward, training, learning and development) through strategic goals; role-modelled by leadership; and lived throughout the business (in meetings, as part of policies, in ethics and codes of conduct).

In our Games Science work we have uncovered ways to enable people to engage with the specifics of behaviour in their organisations using the power of play, by encouraging structured conversations, and through using collaboration principles. The game apps we are currently developing leverage these concepts into everyday behaviours that support the cultures of successful businesses (and shine a light on what needs attention, such as whether people really do internalise ‘good’ behaviours as a result of Diversity & Inclusion training) with data that illuminates patterns and allows comparisons over time. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a pretty powerful way of exploring what lies behind behaviours in organisations.

Does this resonate with your organisation? Whether at diagnostic stage, in the throes of culture change or happily sustaining an existing culture of high performance, we’d love to hear from you!

Innovation Arts is the globally recognised hybrid strategy and design consultancy known for its work with some of the world’s leading companies, as well as a range of global NGOs and public sector organisations. Named by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, Innovation Arts has enjoyed over 12 years of helping business leaders to successfully navigate transformational change and organisational challenges within their companies.