Frontline Intelligence: HR Consulting - Employee engagement

by External26 Mar 2013

Does culture really eat strategy for breakfast? Organisations that proactively go about managing their culture attain greater returns across key metrics such as revenue, profit and customer service than those that don’t, writes Stuart Havill.

If you have spent time exploring the notion of organisational culture, you will no doubt be familiar with the popularised phrase ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

First coined in the mid-1970s by management consultant Peter Drucker, there has since been no shortage of studies that demonstrate the impact that organisational culture has on business performance and success.

Organisations that proactively go about managing their culture attain greater returns across key metrics such as revenue, profit and customer service than those that don’t.

Strategy remains just as important, but if your culture does not support, or is not aligned with your strategic direction, then it is highly likely your chances of success are diminished.

The importance of culture and its role in achieving success was exemplified to me recently when I read the biography of 2012 Rugby World Cup winning All Black Coach, Graham Henry. Appointed in 2004 as head coach, Henry was shocked to discover that despite taking over the reins of a successful legacy that has for so long been a major contributor to New Zealand’s national identity, he had instead inherited a group of individuals who were far from satisfied with the internal workings of the team.

Although extremely proud to represent their country at the highest level, players were unhappy with the team environment and instead gained far greater satisfaction when playing for their local team than the national one.

Fortunately for Henry, he was able to identify early on that the team’s culture was something that needed to be addressed immediately if he was to have any chance of leading his team to success.

In the workplace, however, a prevailing culture may not be as readily apparent as it was for Henry. While understanding and managing culture is fundamental to success, I suspect that for many organisations the idea of going down the road of a ‘cultural change’ initiative can be a step too far.

So what options are there then for those organisations that want to gain an appreciation of their culture, but for whatever reason are not ready or prepared to make the leap to a fully-fledged cultural initiative?

Because engagement and people are such a core part of culture, a carefully planned employee engagement survey is an effective way to get a firm grasp of your organisation’s culture. For example, the Kenexa measure for employee engagement would help you understand employees’ level of ‘pride in the organisation’, ‘satisfaction with the organisation as a place to work’, ‘willingness to advocate the organisation as a great place to work’ and ‘commitment to staying with the organisation’.

More importantly however, with robust analysis a well-designed engagement survey will give you more than just a measure of employee engagement levels. It will also identify for you specific factors within the work environment that are having the greatest impact on employee engagement levels (pride, satisfaction, advocacy and commitment), and therefore your organisation’s ability to perform.

An employee engagement survey is a relatively easy way to gain an appreciation of ‘what it is like around here’. Where it differs from an organisational culture assessment is that the survey itself doesn’t sufficiently provide an explanation as to ‘why it is like this around here’. What is does give you however, is the opportunity to sit down with your employees and share the results, and to discuss in depth what the results really mean from their perspective, i.e. finding out ‘why it is like this here’.

Done right, it is this process of ‘action planning’, as it is more commonly known, where the greatest value of an engagement survey lays in shaping your organisation’s culture. It just may even be the catalyst for your organisation to go the extra step and explore its culture to greater depth.

Regardless, before any decision can be made in relation to the direction of your organisation’s culture, you need to know what you are working with to begin.


About the author

Stuart Havill is a Senior Consultant at Kenexa, an IBM Company, Australia. Phone (03) 9602 3899 or email