In my last blog post in this series I started to explore how culture and engagement drive business objectives. We looked at the definition of ‘culture’ and ‘engagement’, and in turn, why this makes these elements so vitally important to an organisation.

We now need to start to look more closely at the relationship between culture and engagement. In order to do so, I want to share with you a case study. This case study is based around an experience I had very early on in my career, in my first HR role.

Why culture matters

At that stage of my career I had, like many of us do, prioritised the role itself over almost anything else. I hadn’t thought about what it was that the company I was joining did. I hadn’t considered what its culture and its values were. It didn’t even occur to me to wonder how they treated their people, and what that might mean for me personally.

I was in for a rude awakening.

I found myself joining an organisation whose culture had gone horribly, terminally wrong. The business focus was solely on making profit. Now – don’t get me wrong – that’s a sensible objective for all organisations to have! – but when it comes at the cost of everything else, then there are likely to be some serious issues.

As a result, the prevailing culture was one of blame, accusations, and fear. Teams worked in silos. People spent all day with their heads down. And I – as someone who has only ever wanted to go to work and do a good job – found myself for the first (and hopefully last!) time in my career in a really rather alien position.

Driving disengagement

Does culture really impact on employee engagement? Well, here’s my experience. I found myself working within an environment where, for the first time, I became truly detached from the business. The culture was such that all I was focused on every day was getting my head down, getting through my work, not getting shouted at, and getting out of there as quickly as I feasibly could. I couldn’t have told you what the business objectives were. I didn’t care what they were. I was, effectively, solely focused on my own “survival”. And the reason for that was because the prevalent cultural behaviours were actually driving not employee engagement… but employee disengagement.

I learnt a hard lesson from my time at that particular organisation. I had learnt that not putting culture high enough up on my priority list had been a grave error. When I moved on from that role, little more than a year after I started there, and set out to search for my next position, I was placing culture at the very top of my agenda.

A key strategic driver

Fortunately for me, history has not gone on to repeat itself, and since that experience I have gone on to work for two fantastic organisations. Both have prioritised culture as a key strategic driver. Both have, as a result, maximised the engagement of their employees. Consequently, both have, within their own fields, been market leaders.

If we go back to the analogy of the rock up the hill which I referenced in my last post. For our employees to engage with our business objectives, then first and foremost they need to be clear on what these are. Secondly, though, we have to ensure a culture which encourages, facilitates, and drives engagement.

But… culture cannot be forced. We’ve acknowledged that, based on the fundamental definition of the word. Does that mean then that we are unable to influence culture? Does that mean we can never be more than reactive players in the process?

The answer is of course: absolutely not. Culture cannot be forced, but culture can be nurtured, supported and encouraged. In the next blog post in this series we will look in more detail at just how as HR practitioners we can do this, and the steps we can take to maximise that culture/engagement relationship.