Why culture is so last season

‘Culture’ is soooo last season.


For us, the clue is in the word: CULT-ure.

It has a you-need-to-be-exactly-like-us vibe that was synonymous with the ‘fit in or leave’ workplace that grew from the mid 1990s when the economy rebounded out from recession into strong growth that lasted all the way until the crash in 2008.

It was after that moment that organisations began to wake up to the idea that treating their people well might be good for business. This was confirmed in 2009 by the MacLeod Report titled ‘Engaging For Success’, which highlighted the importance of employee engagement and identified the impact this had on business KPIs.

A rash of activity ensued. Values were articulated. Vision and mission statements were published. Employee surveys were sent out. Leaders were trained.

Yet, despite all this, businesses have continued to flounder in this area. Some due to an unwillingness to truly change their ways, and others because they struggled to know how.

The top-down imposition of what a business wants its culture to be is, in our experience, the issue. When employees don’t own ‘what its like to work here’, then what leaders want (and believe) it’s like to be part of their organisation and what it’s actually like as experienced by its people, is likely to be pretty disconnected. The result is that employees see their leaders as out-of-touch, overpaid tyrants. Loyalty, productivity and engagement fall, and turnover, people issues and toxicity go up.

What is a business to do?

First, there has to be an admission that what they’re doing isn’t working. This, it turns out, is usually the hardest part. Admitting that they got it wrong and that time, money or both got wasted, is difficult for leaders to do. Unless that part happens though – whether publicly or privately – then the rest of the journey is going to be unnecessarily tough. But in the transforming of a culture into what they know it needs to be, this admission can be the seminal moment that begins to get employees on board with the change. Showing some vulnerability. Admitting to a mistake. Acknowledging the need to change. THAT your people can relate to. We are all human.

That’s why our business is called ‘Being Human At’; it’s all about putting the human touch back into businesses. Here, we ditch the concept of culture in favour of ‘community’. 

Take a moment to ask yourself what comes to mind when you think about a community. Like culture, it does what it says on the tin, right? Common-unity.

A community is about human connectivity. It’s a place where people come together with a common goal and shared values. It’s where people coalesce because they want to be there, and that want is because they feel valued and like they have a contribution to make, which is a basic human desire. In a community, difference is welcomed, because it is recognised that it makes us a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts – known as a ‘Gestalt’. There is a richness about it because the members feel responsible for and bought into its outcomes. 

When we talk about community with our clients, they frequently think about where they live. We hear stories of street parties or eclectic groups that form work together to build or achieve something or share a common experience. These stories are often inspirational and deeply personal.

We need to see our workplaces in the same way. Whilst leaders can guide and facilitate the creation of communities in their teams or across a wider business, we need to be prepared to hand over ownership for workplace communities to employees. This might take time and patience to build trust on both sides. There might be a need to dismantle some long-held systems, beliefs and behaviours. There might be some losses as people at all levels decide that the community is not one to which they naturally belong.

What you gain, however, will outweigh the challenges – the team at Being Human at witness this all the time. 

How do you start?

 It starts with leaders. We begin by creating a space for them to reconnect with their human selves (the clue is in our name, right?!) and to that person who, usually outside of work, is community-minded whether that’s with family, friends, their pastimes or immediately where they live. We all have a ‘community’ of some sort to which we belong, even if it’s not the term we use to describe it.

Creating a place where people belong – and want to be – is the most powerful tool in attracting, retaining and leveraging talent. Communities do that more than cultures ever will.