People Profession 2030: the role of organisational culture in future workplace trends

People professionals must recognise the importance of positive culture to prepare their organisations for the future of work

Our report People Profession 2030: a collective view of future trends highlights five key trends that shape the modern workplace and therefore influence people practices. The trends were surfaced by people professionals through our Hackathon event and senior leader roundtables. They are:

  • Internal change: evolving organisational models, structures, and processes
  • Digital and technological transformation
  • Changing demographics and I&D strategy
  • Diversifying employment relationships
  • Sustainability, purpose and responsible business

To take a systemic approach to understanding the interaction between these trends, we present an organisational ecosystem which highlights three organisational factors deemed by people professionals to play a key role within each of the trends above. These factors are people management, leadership and culture.

The work of people professionals – experts in HR, L&D and OD – influences and is influenced by organisational culture because every business is made up of human relationships and interactions. It is important, therefore, that a positive culture is managed and developed. Our People Profession 2030 report explores the role of people professionals in establishing a positive culture within the workplace. This article seeks to further explore the concept of organisational culture, with reference to two trends explored in our People Profession 2030 Hackathon: a) digital transformation and b) changing demographics and I&D strategy. During the Hackathon, the importance of culture was particularly strongly felt with regards to these two trends.

What do we mean by organisational culture?

Organisational culture is sometimes described as simply ‘the way we do things around here’, but more detailed definitions describe it as a set of ‘values, beliefs and principles that serve as the foundation for an organisation’s management system’. At the CIPD, culture and behaviour is highlighted as an area of core knowledge in our new Profession Map. Our research defines culture as how decisions are made about how things are done in an organisation. For example, whether a company encourages its staff to take risks or to conform. Cultures are rarely so polarised – an organisation is likely to attempt to find a balance between these examples. Nevertheless, this gives a sense of the choices an organisation faces when establishing ‘what we’re all about’.

Academic literature distinguishes between an organisation’s culture and its climate by defining climate as the meaning people attach to certain features of their work, and the feeling and understanding they have of their organisation as a result. Culture and climate can influence each other, for example developing an inclusive climate requires a shared belief that employees are respected and valued. So, organisational climate can be described as the perceptions people give to the culture in which they work.

If people professionals seek to organise a workforce to deliver value and success, one way of doing so may be to input systems and policies – but this alone is not enough to create real progress. Thinking about learning and development, for example, positive change is unlikely if an organisation fails to value the benefits of investing in learning programmes, irrespective of its policies. Creating norms, values and behaviours that are shared among all members of the organisation – not just the decision makers – helps create a strong culture and work towards real change.

Creating a strong and positive culture matters because it offers everyone in a business a means by which they can understand the organisation, voice their views and develop a shared purpose. People professionals also have a responsibility to continually assess culture to ensure standards are maintained. This, in turn, is key to preserving a high level of service and keeping staff engaged and retained.

How does culture interact with digital transformation?

In our People Profession 2030 report, we explored the impact of society, and our workplaces, becoming increasingly digital. It was felt that a digital world cannot remove humans from the equation; in fact, people professionals will have greater opportunities to focus on individuals whose differences – their background, age or way of thinking, for example – make them valuable. So, ensuring these individuals share values and understandings is a key role for people professionals. This is particularly important as digital and technological transformation requires a real shift in mindset and behaviours across the whole organisation. Employees’ willingness to change is a key moderator of the ease, speed and success with which digital transformations can take place, so getting everyone on the same page is vital.

Our research with Hackathon participants reveals a desire for people professionals to lead on engaging the workforce in order to minimise resistance to digital transformation. Senior leaders felt similarly, acknowledging that there will no doubt be fear around such drastic change. It is key that people professionals help create an organisational culture in which people feel open and ready to embrace digital transformation.

One key way of doing this is to engage and involve people early on to make sure they feel part of the change. A successful transformation is more than simply digital change; employees need to be recognised as key stakeholders in the transformation process. After all, change affects them, so it’s important employees’ experience is considered, rather than just ensuring they do what is needed for the benefit of the organisation. People professionals need to engage with their people throughout digital change programmes, prioritising regular communications to foster a culture of readiness. They should also challenge other areas of the business to think about people considerations as part of the digital transformation early on. This way, a people-centric approach can become the norm during the design of all digital and technology change programmes.

How does culture interact with changing demographics and I&D strategy?

Recent events have highlighted the inequality in our society and workplaces. Challenging all forms of discrimination and being actively anti-racist is imperative for the people profession, now and in the future. The people profession has a responsibility to support a cultural shift in thinking and behaviour around inclusion, as well as the value of individuality and diversity.

As we begin to see a shift in the norms and values held widely in society in relation to equality, it is hoped that this cultural shift is also felt in the workplace, in order to truly support and engage all people within organisations. Organisations can’t simply act independently of wider cultural changes; we have to be reflective of the society we serve.

I&D initiatives alone are not enough to create and maintain positive change; professionals recognise that a workplace culture in which difference is valued and new ways of working are encouraged is required alongside these. Leadership is one element that is key to this – developing managerial approaches and diversifying leadership styles can help facilitate a cultural shift and help organisations be successful in the future.

While leaders are of course important, there needs to be a general level of shared responsibility within the culture of organisations to embrace changing demographics in the workplace. People professionals should not be looking to simply ‘deal with’ I&D in a reactive way; instead, it needs to be a long-term strategy that threads through all activities within the organisation.

One thing people professionals can do to ensure changes in societal ways of thinking transcend into the workplace is to show curiosity and continue to update knowledge on I&D within their organisations. As social constructs of gender, ethnicity, disability, and so on, evolve, people professionals are responsible for translating these changes into the workplace and ensuring the correct values and understandings are shared throughout the organisational hierarchy.

Summary

Considering organisational culture is key when discussing trends that shape the modern workplace and will continue to be so. While the two trends, ‘digital transformation’ and ‘changing demographics and I&D strategy’ are disparate, this only serves to reinforce the importance of developing and maintaining a strong organisational culture in the workplace, as this determines positive organisational change. This, alongside people management and leadership, represents the organisational ecosystem that impacts how influential the key trends are within organisations.

We discuss the organisational ecosystem in greater detail in this article. We will take a deep dive into the other two factors in the organisational ecosystem, people management and leadership, in our next articles – check back here in the new year to see our latest thinking.

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