You've defined your culture, what next?

Posted in Employee, Events and Reporting on 25 September 2019 By Helen O'Brien, Creative Director

The final event in Emperor’s Culture Club series explored how to make culture part of your every day business. Hear from our speakers below as they summarise the key takeaways from the session.


The first event in Emperor’s Culture Club series explored the recent governance changes and how they will impact reporting on culture and the second event outlined how to define culture and measure engagement

At the third and final event Darryl Mead, Emperor’s Head of Employee Experience defined culture as “the way we do things around here” and recapped some of the main discussion points from our first two sessions before talking through some of his most asked questions about culture.

How do we capture workforce insights? 

Whether your company has chosen a Non-Executive Director, employee forums, an employee on the board, or a variants of those, some are still working through how to capture insights from employees and understand how these influence decision-making at board level. What does the board need to know? How is the board capturing stakeholder views on critical decisions? Most companies are using a combination of surveys, focus groups, CEO meetings, forums, listening sessions

Who owns culture? 

Ultimately the board must report on culture but a culture strategy requires a clear business owner with mandate, passion and authority to drive change and set the tone from the top. No longer just the domain of HR, organisations need to develop a task force with representatives from HR, investor relations, communications, brand, internal communications and operations to shape programmes and culture. Culture reporting and strategy should not just be seen as a regulatory requirement, it’s just good business.

What are the common culture themes?  

Culture is your one true differentiator as a business. It cannot be replicated. We are hearing three strong culture-related themes that are top of mind for employees:

  • Wellbeing - programmes that support employees’ mental health as well as financial and physical wellbeing are critical in shaping a great workplace 

  • Inclusion and diversity - this means going beyond gender pay, creating an environment where everyone is valued for their contribution 

  • Sustainability. As climate change becomes an emergency, developing programmes to address environmental impacts and allowing employees the chance to be actively involved engages employees, 

How do we define our purpose?

The need for companies to demonstrate their economic and societal value along with new reporting regulations has meant a strong focus on purpose. Larry Fink, CEO Blackrock, said “Purpose guides culture, provides a framework for consistent decision-making”. Purpose is however not just a simple strapline for marketing use or a tool to reposition the brand; done properly it is much more than that. It should be considered a compass that can guide all business activities and that is embedded deeply into culture. Defining it starts with asking why you exist beyond making money for shareholders.

Emperor’s Creative Director, Helen O’Brien focused on the importance of language and story; when used well, the stories we tell and the language we use can be a powerful tool for cultivating culture and increasing the affective commitment of your people.

The words we use and the stories we tell help people understand what is important to the business; what is valued, what is expected from them as individuals and teams, which behaviours are permitted and championed and which are unacceptable. Most importantly they help employees know that they are connected and contributing positively.

Whether your business has a thriving culture that you want to curate and maintain or one that is more challenged maybe due to expanding teams or market changes there are two key components to your narrative...

Authenticity and relevance

Authenticity is key to the stories we tell and the language we use; coming from within the DNA of the business – be true, relate-able, ‘baked in’ not ‘bolted on’. Listening to and reflecting the language and the nuances of the organisation. Genuine stories from real people.

Relevant to helping the business achieve its objectives. It is important not only to understand which aspects of your culture help you achieve your business goals but those that are relatable to the diversity of individuals working within an organisation at all levels. Do people identify with the stories they see and hear? Do they reflect the best of your organisation?

A business will struggle to ‘impose’ a culture on its people but by being actively invested and engaged it can add clarity, shape and inspire behaviour, set expectations and ultimately harness the benefits of a happy, motivated, aligned workforce.

A clear link between business strategy, brand strategy and culture strategy

The people within a business are one of its most important brand assets. The culture we create delivers brand experience which in turn delivers against our business strategy and objectives.

Our guest speaker Paul Cuff, Co-CEO at XPS Group joined us for a Q&A to talk about culture within his business and the value of taking the time and making the investment to nurture it.

The catalyst for kicking off both a brand and culture project was the merger of Xafinity and Punter Southall in 2018, bringing together two well established pensions businesses to create the largest pure pensions consultancy in the UK.

The XPS brand was created to unite the two businesses, reflecting the heritage of both whilst being truly distinctive and forward facing. Care was taken to communicate and embed the brand throughout the business and to ensure that internal teams understood the platform, rationale, key messages and objectives of the business. This in turn paved the way, a short time later, to define culture at XPS. 

A purpose, vision and mission were developed from in-depth focus groups held with a diverse cross-section of employees across each of the former businesses, services offer, level of seniority, level of tenure and geography. This created a clear messaging outlining the value XPS provided to wider society, what the business values, and most importantly how the business behaves.

The right language was identified by listening carefully to employee consultation, questionnaires and feedback and maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue. A key component for reinforcing messages and positive behaviour is through the collecting and sharing of stories from within the business. 

Values were embedded into the whole employee experience starting with talent attraction and a new careers and graduate website, through onboarding and being woven into the fabric of reward and recognition at all levels. The gathering and sharing of stories demonstrating the values in action is a fundamental component to ensuring the connection to how XPS does business day-to-day and maintaining momentum throughout the business. 

Leaders across office locations were engaged first to ensure that they understood the benefits of a strong and positive culture and were able to take ownership within their teams and regions. Understanding and recognising that each service offer and location has slightly different priorities but that the overall culture and behaviour was aligned was important.

Leading from the top is critical. Paul and Co-CEO Ben absolutely champion the XPS values and behaviours. Attention to cultivating a healthy culture is on the agenda at board meetingsand forms part of their personal measure of success. Investing time and budget in nurturing the culture is important to drive business performance. 

Measuring success in year one has beenthrough employee surveys to assess awareness and understanding, and gathering feedback and listening to champions is  currently underway. Values are being used to guide decisions for customers and the wider business.

Maintaining momentum is crucial. Keeping the values fresh and employees inspired will be through new stories, creative campaigns, reward and recognition and continued focus from leaders. 

If you'd like help to make sense of your organisational culture, understand how to shape it, and share it, or to receive a copy of the slides from the event, please get in touch with [email protected].



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