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It’s a cultural thing – the importance of organisational culture

Last week we talked with Ann Pickering, Head of HR at O2, about the role that incentives and benefits play as part of an effective employee engagement strategy. This week, Ann shares her thoughts on culture, and how O2’s own culture drives everyone throughout the organisation.

At O2, we have worked hard to establish a culture where people want to come to work, rather than feel they have to. I want people to choose to work and stay at O2, rather than feel that they have to because they wouldn’t get paid as much somewhere else, or wouldn’t get as much holiday.

Visitors to O2 get to experience the culture from the moment they arrive at our headquarters in Slough. They sit in the glass atrium, fresh coffee in hand, and will see smiling, relaxed and often casually dressed people walking past. That didn’t just happen. It was created.

So where does it start? If you want to change the culture in your organisation, here are four things to think about:

1. Start at the top

If you want to change the culture in any organisation, you need to start at the top and secure the backing and support of the CEO and board. Without it, any initiative is likely to fail. If the carpets seem thicker the closer you get to the boardroom, or the toilet paper that little bit softer, then the culture will remain exactly where it is right now.

Driven from the top, however, cultural change is not only possible, it can seem unstoppable, and becomes something that every person in the organisation lives and breathes.

2. Change the way you recruit

Establishing a culture based on trust, and building a workforce that reflects your customers and prospects, demands a flexible recruitment model. At O2, we use online application forms, and an online test for screening and shortlisting candidates. By the time a candidate arrives for an interview, our managers pay little attention to their CV or academic record and focus instead on attitude, interests and how they spend their time outside of work or school.

It’s vital that we remove any unconscious bias in the recruitment process. If the manager conducting the interview does not know where a candidate lives, where they went to school, what grades they achieved or how much they currently earn, then they cannot let assumptions or prejudice influence their decision, nor can they simply recruit in their own like.

3. It’s all about attitude

At O2 the main skill we look for in a candidate is attitude. It’s not that we don’t care about a candidate’s GCSEs or other academic achievements, it’s that we believe that their attitude is what will enable them to deliver the service that our customers have come to expect. The world is changing so fast that I couldn’t tell you what skills the company will need in five years’ time. But I can tell you exactly the sort of attitude we will be looking for.

4. Be visible

Some of the most successful organisations are ones with a culture of openness and visibility of the senior leadership team. At O2 our leaders and senior managers embark each May on an annual listening tour. Over the course of several months, they visit stores and contact centres, meeting and talking with our people and customers. Our people welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on what is working, and what is not.

It’s not only the right thing to do, but it is also the great leveler. You quickly establish that we all have other commitments pulling us in multiple directions, whether it’s sorting out childcare, or getting the housework done.

Finally, while discounts and incentives don’t create the culture in an organization, they can certainly play their part. At O2, we offer our business customers and their employees O2 Open, an effective way for companies to offer their employees a range of discounts and benefits, including discounted tariffs, as well as O2 Priority tickets, offers and special deals. Find out more at O2 Open.


What are you doing to establish, change or improve the culture of your organisation? I would love to hear from you. You can contact me via LinkedIn.



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