Culture is on the leadership agenda, but the rest of the business doesn’t yet feel it

Business needs to start proactively managing culture, a new PwC Global Culture survey.

The PwC 2021 Global Culture survey shows that the gap in perception between senior management and the rest of the organisation has never been greater, despite culture being on the leadership agenda.

According to the survey, which canvassed the views of 3,200 workers worldwide, 68 percent of South African respondents believe that culture is a source of competitive advantage. The data showed that respondents who said that their organisation had a distinctive culture were more likely to also see an increase in revenue and customer and employee satisfaction. Three-quarters of senior management agreed that their culture helped to ensure successful change initiatives.

Dayalan Govender, partner in PwC’s People and Organisation division says, “Our survey results indicate that businesses with strong cultures tend to drive better business outcomes. It is notable that the majority of senior leaders credit much of their success during the Covid-19 pandemic to culture. They also agreed that top cultural priorities should include recruitment and retention, digitisation, health and safety and collaboration.”

Locally, 41 percent of respondents stated that making decisions quickly had become more difficult in their organisations as a result of the pandemic, while 57 percent stated that coaching and developing talent had also become difficult, and 35 percent said it was more difficult to collaborate with colleagues.

Conversely, only 57 percent of respondents globally who stated that culture is not a source of competitive advantage found decision-making easier or the same during the pandemic. In China, this dropped to 38 percent, while in India it rose to 68 percent.

“It’s also clear from our survey that organisations with a distinctive culture found it easier to maintain performance and pivot if needed during the crisis. On the downside, our survey shows that when culture is not a priority, certain ways of working are not as easy or successful as when culture is prioritised,” Dayalan adds.

The global survey results demonstrate a clear divide between those who say their culture is distinctive and those who do not, namely that the following have become easier or stayed the same:

  • Coaching and developing talent (55 percent vs. 41 percent)
  • Developing or maintaining a sense of community (60 percent vs. 43 percent)
  • Responding to customer needs (66 percent vs. 57 percent)
  • Innovating new products and services (66 percent vs. 56 percent)
  • Producing/delivering expected results (63 percent vs. 51 percent)

Diversity, equity and inclusion
In South Africa, however, 60 percent of respondents stated that culture was more important to performance than an organisation’s strategy or operating model while 83 percent said their organisation had a strong sense of purpose, and 74 percent said they had a strong connection to their organisation’s purpose.

Dayalan says, “Our data shows a widening gap between what leaders say about culture [particularly diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI] and what their people actually experience. It is possible for organisations to close this gap, though. As the past year showed, rapid transformation can be achieved with a targeted focus on a few critical behaviours.”

The majority of respondents, 72 percent, said that their organisations actively listened to differing voices and perspectives when making major decisions, even if it added time and complexity. Notwithstanding these positive notes, 41 percent of South African respondents felt their organisations could do more to improve diversity, equity and inclusion.

Close to three-quarters of senior management (72 percent) feel that they can be themselves at work, 63 percent believed that their organisation encouraged discussion on sensitive and uncomfortable topics and 78 percent that their organisation embraced flexibility and accommodated people with differing needs

“If businesses want to use culture as a competitive advantage, they need to start by taking stock of how their culture is currently helping or hindering their ability to drive business outcomes. They also need to identify what traits and behaviours are most needed to evolve to best support their strategic business goals. Then start proactively managing culture, which will likely involve building new capabilities to ensure that they're firing up all the relevant culture enablers – both formal and informal – for their respective organisations,” he concludes.