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Company culture should come from leaders

Culture isn't purely a HR issue, says Dan Look

Leaders need to take full ownership of instilling a strong sense of company culture, senior partner and head of culture at management consultancy Baringa, Dan Look has told HR magazine.

“Often leaders of organisations believe culture is a purely HR issue. HR of course has a massively important role to play, but a culture is reinforced by everything a leader does,” said Look. “You can have an HR department doing everything they possibly can, but it has to start with leadership. Then you get a really strong drive and influence on the business.”

He added: “Leaders always focus on strategy first, but in our view they should focus on culture first because in many ways that’s more important. In the long term, culture is the only strategic differentiator.”

Look said that supporting employees to meet with as many different people from the rest of the business is another key way of disseminating a company culture. He reported that Baringa, which was recently ranked in the top 10 best places to work in the UK by The Great Place to Work Institute, “sliced” employees in three different ways when planning meet-ups to ensure this.

The first slice involves people meeting with others in the same business unit. The second slice is called a ‘secondary home’, for staff whose responsibilities cross into areas other than their primary business unit.

Lastly, employees all sit within a certain “advisor pod” within the business, consisting of a partner who advises a number of senior managers, who in turn each advise several junior employees. Staff regularly meet as advisor pod groups.

Look added that many employees also take part regularly in focus group sessions, which is another way of people getting to know a wide range of colleagues. This also creates a culture of leadership at all levels.

“Everyone knows they can suggest changes the business could make,” said Look. “When people talk about career choices they say they didn’t think about leaving because if they don’t like something here they’re able to change it.”

The regularity of both social and work-related face-to-face meet-ups is particularly important in ensuring a strong sense of culture in spite of many staff working remotely, said Look.

However, he warned not to overload employees with meet-ups. “You need to be careful about the number of evenings you’re taking up with socials, and the amount of people’s work time we take up with meetings,” he said.