3 approaches to managing culture 

Reflecting on what some of our community members have said about managing organisational culture.

Many workplaces today are unique in that they consist of Generation Xs, Ys, baby boomers and millennials, all occupying the same office space. One of the greatest challenges that organisations face is building and maintaining a culture suitable to all those employees. Coupled with this is the fact that South Africa is in a very interesting space; one in which companies have to make sure they have a transformed workforce.

In this article, we present three approaches that our community members have adopted in relation to managing organisational culture. 

1 Buy-in based on values

Sungeetha Sewpersad, HR executive at ABSA, said taking a values-based approach to organisational culture is an effective way to reach employees from all demographics and backgrounds.  

“Culture is a very interesting subject especially when managing 12,000 people,” said Sungeetha. “Whilst we are trying to build a culture that is all-encompassing given the change we are going through it is difficult to please everyone all of the time. We are a values-led organisation and use this as the basis to guide our decision-making. We also ensure that all colleagues have a voice in building our new employee value proposition either by way of surveys or focus groups."

2 Having a chief culture officer

Speaking at one of the CHRO Summits held in 2018, ABSA Head of Organisational Effectiveness Sthembiso Phakathi said they were thinking of creating a post for a chief culture officer in the organisation to ensure that the culture, leadership and strategy of the organisation were all in sync, so to derive value from new technologies. 

“It will not be a full-time position but the person's role will be to ensure that the culture drives the corporate strategy and vice versa, because HR alone cannot be responsible for culture. HR can provide enabling capabilities in terms of running services and unlocking opportunities with architectural service providers, but the responsibility lies in the hands of the leadership collective,” said Sthembiso.

3 Introducing a culture transfer initiative

Marge Mantjie, who has recently joined Alexander Forbes, spoke to us about one of the challenges she faced when she responsible for inculcating Bowman's culture into all their African businesses. She introduced a work exchange programme to develop a culture that filtered through to each of the businesses.

“It was difficult because culture can be a tricky animal sometimes. It is not something that one can copy and paste. There's no magic pill that you can give to people to make them adopt any given culture. So I introduced an exchange programme where junior lawyers from our Nairobi office, for example, would spend time in Sandton and one would go the other way,” said Marge.

The idea was to have some culture sharing process so that the people engaging with those who have been seconded can get a real sense of how thing are done in another office. The programme went a long way towards inculcating a culture that embodied every office and, in the end, was so successful that it was extended from a three-month period to six months and is now a full-year secondment.