The heart of managing workplace culture

Cecile Alper-Leroux from Ultimate Software tells HRD how she defines and differentiates vision, strategy and culture

The heart of managing workplace culture

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.” – Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management

Managing culture is akin to guiding and fostering the people, philosophies and practices of an organization in a direction that is authentic and ideally a positive force toward its vision. However, when we consider organizations’ typical management structure, strategy seems to be more important than vision and culture.

Cecile Alper-Leroux, Vice President of Human Capital Management (HCM) Innovation at Ultimate Software, defines and differentiates vision, strategy and culture in this way:

Vision – a compelling picture of a future state and goal; a clear, simple, aspirational statement of where an organization needs to go and what it needs to become to succeed and differentiate in its marketplace

Strategy – the broad plan of action taken by an organization to achieve the vision it has in mind

Culture – the collective beliefs and behaviours governing how management and employees share knowledge and interact, activities that are often a by-product of the organization’s history, leadership values and management style (such as hierarchical command and control management methods or more free-thinking and collaborative ones)

Nowadays, workplace cultures are under extraordinary pressure – in part, due to digital transformation. Organizations of all sizes are seizing market opportunities and solving business problems using new technologies, which create many new opportunities for people – provided that organizations are thinking about the impact of those changes on their cultures.

If culture is neglected as organizational leaders focus primarily on the strategic value of digital transformation, people will feel threatened. In fact, machines are expected to handle more than half of workplace tasks by 2025. However, The Future of Jobs Report 2018 says that jobs, not people, will be redundant.

Companies can use their digital transformations to rethink culture for the better. By understanding the impact of change on the workforce, they can take the necessary steps to reinvent their cultures to be more relevant to employees’ work needs and career aspirations.

“Given the value of culture, it makes sense to reposition those three words from their traditional order,” Alper-Leroux notes. “Here’s my take: Once an organization’s vision is articulated, the unified efforts of the workforce culture guide a winning strategy to achieve superior outcomes. Vision, culture and strategy. A new order.”

As an example, Ultimate maintains a culture built on innovation, trust, respect and care for all people – driven by its founding philosophy of “People First.” Ultimate promotes a culture of inclusivity, equality and diversity through company-wide communities of interest such as PRIDEUS, Women in Leadership, UltiVETS, UltiHOPE and Women in Technology.

Aside from these programs, the company offers benefits such as unlimited paid time off to all its full-time employees upon their date of hire and three fully paid days each year to volunteer for charities of their choice, plus various on-site amenities in its Canadian headquarters.

For these reasons and many others, Ultimate recently ranked #3 on Great Place to Work’s Best Workplaces in Canada 2019 list.

“At Ultimate, we see culture as a self-re-enforcing framework of thoughts, actions and philosophies that determine how people experience their work lives, and how the organization treats and interacts with employees and customers,” Alper-Leroux says.

Cecile Alper-Leroux is vice president of HCM innovation at Ultimate Software. She is a keynote speaker, author of From Dissonance to Resonance: Bringing Your People and Organization into Sync, and a visionary on HR trends, hot topics and global strategies. An economic anthropologist with more than 20 years of industry experience, she focuses on helping companies design person-centered experiences that enable all people to achieve highly purposeful and productive work lives. Cecile has been featured in Forbes, HuffPost, HR Magazine, HRD Canada TV, and The Wall Street Journal.

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