Culture is hard to define, and even harder to create. In the last few years, the value of “corporate culture” has been recognised. But, what does this phrase really mean? While the corporate world will always pay attention to big data and management theory, in this case it has something to learn from the less empirical discipline of anthropology.
Culture accounts for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” James L. Heskett, The Culture Cycle
However, while defining a company’s culture is a difficult task, perhaps an even more intractable problem is how to actually implement this vision. This post takes inspiration from the social sciences’ understanding of culture. It outlines three principles of an empathetic internal communications strategy – collaboration, integrity and honesty. It then discusses how the role of digital signage in communicating corporate culture.
Culture as Tension
Before trying to create a culture, we should understand what we mean by this term. Here, cultural theory and anthropology can help us unpick the concepts that are in play. The critic Raymond Williams described three divergent meanings: culture as a form of individual enrichment (as when we say a person is “cultured”); culture as a “way of life” (such as Galician culture); and, finally, culture as an activity (pursued through the arts, media and education). The multiple meanings of “culture” may be different, but they constantly interact.
The anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor synthesized culture to define it as “the complete whole” of a person in a given society, as fundamentally woven into the fabric of our lives and living in the realms of both action and thought. Victor Turner narrowed this concept further into the idea of “communitas”: the unstructured elements of the social order outside of economic, legal and political systems that form common human bonds.
Corporate Culture: Theory Into Practice
But what bearing does anthropology theory have on business practices? Every company and organization is more than the sum of its commercial activity and products; it is a collection of human beings, and therefore an understanding of how culture is created and negotiated between people is just as important inside the workplace.
If “culture” describes the nexus of life, art and politics in a necessarily loose manner, what does “corporate culture” really mean in practice? It can be understood as: the intersection between daily life at the company; the perspective, actions and priorities of the individual employees; and, the “higher purpose”, ambitions and values of the organization itself. Together, these factors come together to create the “communitas” of a company: the unstructured social bonds that unite the members of the organization.
The Role of Digital Signage: Collaboration, Integrity and Honesty
Internal communications requires a high tolerance of ambiguity, contradiction, and subtlety (i.e., softness).” Walter G. Montgomery, Knowledge@Wharton
When a company wants to create a “communitas” or holistic culture that reflects its values, it is essential to employ empathy and a human understanding of culture. Here, digital signage is used as a case study to explore the three key principles to this approach:
- Fostering Collaboration
The days of command-and-control internal communications are dying out, and in order to be effective, business leaders must seek buy-in and enthusiasm from all employees. The Institute for Employment Studies found that feeling “involved” is key to employee engagement. Managers can seek the collaboration of employees in the creation and evolution of the company’s values and vision, and ask for their suggestions in how to translate them into the overall culture. Digital signs can display calls-to-action, evolving news and highlight the human stories embody the company’s cultural mission statement.
- Demonstrating Integrity
A company with integrity continues to abide by its values in good times and bad, and maintains this consistency through communication with staff. Digital signage is a fundamentally flexible medium, which can be used to communicate praise during triumphant moments as well as guidance during trying times. Placing screens throughout the office, including in social spaces, ensures that communication engages with all parts of the company “communitas”, and helps employees discover and retain information.
- Embodying Transparency
Honesty and authenticity are key in ensuring a level of trust between institution and employee, so that a positive culture can be created. Digital signs can help by ensuring messages are consistent across all offices globally, so that all employees are fully informed and no one is left out of the loop. If the office environment reflects the cultural ideals of a business (through creative digital signage in particular and office design in general), this is yet another sign of transparency.
Digital signage is just one, extremely effective, channel through which a company can embody these three important principles. Through this approach, they can engage their employees as people, and begin to foster the corporate culture they desire.