Fostering a Company Culture

The Culture dynamic

A company’s culture can be its best asset. When it’s more than just hype it can inspire and empower staff to take the business to great heights.

Corporate culture is the hidden force that shapes behaviour. It’s like gravity, you can’t see it, but you can feel its pull.
Every company has a culture that drives the way its employees behave. When a new person joins an organisation they will adapt to the prevailing corporate culture in order to assimilate with their fellow workers.
If the culture is poor, rather than bringing a breath of fresh air to the business, they will merely adopt the bad practices.
But what is this intangible “corporate culture”?
Corporate Culture is the shared values, norms and expectations that guide an individual’s behaviour within a company in terms of how they relate together, how they get a job done and how they relate to customers.
“The key word here is ‘shared’,”. “If you don’t share the values, aims and expectations then that’s where you get trouble and that’s when it’s difficult to change a culture.”
“It’s the way you do things.”

More than the dollars

A corporate culture solely focused on the dollar will prove short lived, and there are many examples where this has been evident.
“Making money is just the hygiene factor, it is not the ultimate motivator,”. “Organisations are saying they need to motivate people at a deeper values level.”
While making money is of course the first objective of any business, the second, and equally important, objective is how this will be achieved. Will it be through cost cutting, laying off staff, focusing on research and development or providing outstanding customer service? The answer will drive the culture within the organisation.
A focus on money-making is invariably harmful to the company.
“If you are just there to make money, then it may work in the short term but in the longer term it will start to damage your business,”.
“Enron’s core values were communication, respect, excellence and integrity, the corporate culture was to make money, and the culture overwhelmed the values.”
But equally there are companies with healthy corporate cultures. The real challenge for companies is to create an inspirational type of culture.

Feeling the winds of change

So how do you recognise that your company needs to change its corporate culture in the first place?
The realisation comes when an organisation has restructured, cut costs and changed systems, and the employees are still dissatisfied and there are still silos.
While you can change a culture from within, rather than employ an external consultancy, this can be difficult if the leader of the initiative to change has been with the company for any length of time.
Cultural change has to come from the top. This is the most critical element for its success. Unless executives are walking the walk and talking the talk, then the staff will be reluctant to accept any mooted changes.
“The fish rots from the head down”. This phrase stresses the importance of leadership.
Research has shown that only one-third of managers and leaders understand the impact of their behaviour on others.
“Two-thirds of managers and leaders don’t have a good perception of how others see them and that plays out enormously”. “Staff are extremely sensitive to an integrity gap between what leaders say and do.”

The individualist factor

But having inspirational leaders is only half the equation. You also need to have key personnel to help implement the change.
People may hear the hype about cultural change at talkfests, but when they get back to their desks, nothing actually changes.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you have agents who act as catalysts for your new strategies. They are what referred as “mavericks”.
“The mavericks will see the change as an opportunity to improve and do better business. They are the ones who will drive the culture change forward and build momentum.”
A maverick can just as easily be somebody in their first job, who “doesn’t know yet what he doesn’t know”. Or it could be somebody two years out from retirement who is “looking to give something back to the company and not just disappear into the sunset”. In effect, the mavericks are the people you would keep if your CEO told you that you had to fire 80 per cent of your staff.
And shedding staff is all part and parcel of cultural change. You have to be willing to lose those people who don’t want to embrace the new culture. It’s referred to as consequence management.
“You must be ready to get rid of people who are not living the values. It is the second most critical lever for the success of cultural change after leadership”.
Consequence management – If people are not continually hitting targets in his high performance oriented business a development plan is put in place, and if there is no improvement, then they will be asked to leave.
“The worst thing in a high performance culture is to accept poor performance”.

What are the most important skills a manager needs to drive a culture?
Building a culture is all about relationships.
Your relationship with yourself. Your relationship with the people around you. And your relationship with work.
Again, in any new business, it’s more about leadership than management.
Leaders need to be able to sell their vision to everyone they work with. They need to engage all their partners, management team, employees and investors in the vision, and inspire them to get behind the business 110 per cent.
Key points – the need for better communication, recognition and rewarding achievements, and employment opportunities.

What is the most complex part of driving culture into a team?
Getting the balance right between managing the business needs and managing the people.
Again building up trust. It’s hard work and puts a lot of emphasis on what you do day-to-day.
Being 100 per cent aware of what is going on, and getting the timing right on what might need correcting. Accepting sometimes things may not work out the way you expected, and knowing when to implement change management.

How do you go about building trust within your team to drive change?
Learn about people, take the time to find out how they operate and what makes them tick. If your culture needs adjusting, that change will only be effective if you really believe in it.
Whatever you expect people to do, you should be ready to do yourself. Then you need to communicate why you believe in it.
You can only build up trust and change if you have good communication, if you’re transparent, if you’re reliable and stand for what you’re saying.
Once you’ve developed this, the next step is teamwork, get the people involved, get them to believe in what you’re saying, provide them with the spice and the fun to want to make it happen.

“Successful cultural change requires strong support from management and commitment from the whole team”. “It is not about setting new rules and expecting people to follow them – there needs to be a buy-in from all.