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Know thyself: Corporate culture begins with introspection

5 August 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Another reader of this column writes: “I am a management trainee in a medium-sized business organisation. I was attending a workshop on Management Essentials recently and the trainer was briefly discussing the importance of a company’s culture in adapting to changes of outside business atmosphere. Can you enlighten me a little more on this subject?”

To make it easy for the reader, let us begin from the very beginning; defining the term ‘culture’.  In brief, a culture is the values and practices shared by the members of a group of people. Company culture, therefore, is the shared values and practices of the company’s employees. In other words, culture can be defined as the way a company defines and captures what’s important to ensure its long-term success. After the culture is defined, storing that knowledge so it can be passed down to future generation (new employees) takes on a whole new meaning. We can begin to understand why defining and implementing a corporate culture is so important.

Types
There are six types of corporate bodies;
1. Adaptive Organisations. These have as a core value the ability to adapt to change, especially in response to changing external circumstances.
2. Inert Organisations. This is a ‘dead’ culture totally unable to change.
3. Networked Organisations. These are very sociable networks of small teams. They are highly creative. But loyalty is low.
4. Mercenary Organisations. These are ruthless business machines dedicated to work and to success. But sociability is very low.
5. Fragmented Organisations. These are really loose alliances of very independent workers, such as lawyers. Sociability and loyalty are both very low.
6. Communal Organisations. These have high loyalty and high sociability. They act like one big happy family. Recruiting new staff with similar values is important.
Companies with an adaptive culture that is aligned to their business goals routinely outperform their competitors. Some studies report the difference at 200% or more. To achieve results like this for your organisation, you have to figure out what your culture is, decide what it should be, and move everyone toward the desired culture.

Good culture
What is a ‘Good’ work culture?  How do you find it out? Just Ask! When you ask people in any company, “What would you like more of in the workplace?” they might say something like:
  •     Better teamwork and more cooperation.
  •     A feeling of safety—more openness and trust.
  •     More involvement in decisions that affect me.
  •     Better communication and more information.
  •     More focus on getting work done and less on politics.
  •     Clearer tasks, responsibilities and boundaries, so I can be personally responsible for my work.

Reasonable aspirations! All of them are fair.
By definition, therefore, developing a good work culture means moving in the direction people want. It is simple to do. Leaders make small changes in ‘how’ they do what they do every day to show that they support and encourage the desired qualities. When you develop the work culture, everybody wins.
Some of the world’s best companies are also performance-driven and we could do well by taking a few pages from their very successful strategies. One thing that stands out is that these companies have an excellent work culture which combined with strong talent and good managerial policies give them an edge over others.



Steps
So, what are the steps that you can take to create a fantastic work culture at your organisation?
  •     Provide support – In a great work environment, employees have a good support system, a safety net of sorts for them to fall back. The idea is not to encourage them into thinking that making mistakes is ok, but to nudge them forward when they fall back.
  •     Give regular feedback – Constructive criticism can help tremendously, so make sure that you provide feedback on a regular basis. Create an atmosphere of learning so that employees do not feel saddened or embarrassed by their mistakes.
  •     Share your goal – If you can share the goal of the organisation and make your employees feel that it is their goal as well, then it adds a mission to their work life, a zeal that won’t go unnoticed. Every employee likes to think that they are making a difference in the organisation, so give them that motivation. Hold regular meetings to remind them of the shared goals so the idea of belonging to the organisation is reinforced in them.
  •     Set obtainable goals – If you’re going to share your goals with your employees, make sure they are attainable goals and not something that is wildly out of everyone’s reach. A good idea would be to sit down with a review group and outline your goals. Help employees streamline their personal goals with the organisation’s goals.
  •     Give timely rewards – If employees are performing well and even beyond your expectations, it works to your advantage if you can reward them appropriately. Holding back rewards when they are deserved can only make for disgruntled employees who start looking for greener pastures. A review panel might help you make the decision regarding this.
  •     Review regularly – It helps if you can get an objective person to review the situation once in a while so you can get a grasp of whether things are moving forward or not at your organisation.
Creating a winning work culture is not something that can be achieved overnight. What you need to do is to develop it slowly and let the processes become a part of the organisation. A good work culture is not just a wonderful experience for your employees but in the long run, it helps you achieve many different objectives, which in turn help your organisation rise above the rest.

Positive culture
How do we build a positive corporate culture? A few factors are essential.
* Culture carriers. These are key people, usually managers, who represent and spread the core values of the corporate culture.
* Stability of the group. It is more difficult for a culture to emerge if people are changing all the time.
* Stories. A group packages up its culture into stories which are frequently told and re-told and which typify the values of the group e.g. ‘the time we all stayed late on Xmas Eve to get the last orders finished and then has an impromptu party at the local.’
* Heroes. These are the individuals who typify to an extreme the values of the group.
* Symbols. These may be staff mottoes, the corporate mission statement or anything that symbolises the core values.
* Rites. These are specific occasions, such as the annual office party, when the core values are publicly displayed. Formal award ceremonies are another example.
* Rituals. This means a standard pattern of behaviour at a specific occasion, such as the office party if things are always done in a particular pattern.
* Courses. Attending in-house courses is an important way of team-building and communicating the core values.
* Cultural networks. This means the informal contacts between employees where they reinforce core values, especially by passing them from older to younger group members.

Why culture?
There are a number of advantages of strong corporate cultures.
  •     Motivation and therefore productivity, is increased.
  •     Instructions are interpreted in a common way, so work is done to a similar standard and in a similar manner.
  •     Loyalty is increased, and replacing workers is an expense to be avoided.
  •     Management control is increased.

In spite of the plus points, there are instances where strong corporate culture cannot be easily implemented. For example, in a MNC (Multi-National Corporation) there will almost certainly be conflicts between the local national culture and the imported corporate culture. These conflicts are very difficult to manage and there is usually a shortage of managers with the necessary skills in ’multi-cultural management’. For example, in the Middle East family values are very important and an employee wouldn’t dream of staying late to finish work if this conflicted with a family duty. Businesses are also not places with a homogenous culture. Most businesses are too large for people to identify across the whole organisation. Instead, people identify with smaller sub-groups. So a business is, in fact, a mixture of sub-cultures some of which may even be deviant. There is also a strong likelihood of conflict between some of the different sub-cultures.

And above all, business is rarely simple, clear and unambiguous enough to allow of one simple message of the kind envisaged by proponents of the corporate culture idea.
(The writer is a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience. He can be contacted at lionwije@live.com)
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