Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The culture of business

Back in my days as a trainer, when working with a company that was undergoing a massive organisational change, much of what we were asked to deliver to employees focused on 'company culture'.  In this case it was the merging of two very different organisations that required gentle handling: a community bank and a large international one, joining forces to create a new business.

It took a long time for the two ''cultures'' to merge - physically it was literally an overnight transformation but it was several years, and a fair amount of staff churn, before there was a real gelling happening on the shop floor.

There can be challenges in all sizes of  organisations too, not just monoliths like this one. Consider the ''mad inventor'' who suddenly - or not so suddenly - finds himself running a large organisation on the back of what was once just one guy and a great idea. Often unskilled and usually unprepared, the poor entreprenuer can easily get trapped by thinking that their sole trader model can simply grow into a larger version of itself.

The culture of the workplace can make or break the success of an organisation. And so I offer this as my 8 point guide to creating a great business that people want to work in, stay in, and be proud to tell others about.

1. Lead from the top. The Board and/or CEO need to live and breathe the (carefully developed and clearly communicated)  values of the company - to the extent that their own behaviour/s need to be ''beyond reproach''
2. Start at the bottom. The way people dress, the language they use, the layout and decor of the office all impact on the way a business operates - even the kind of music playing in the background will contribute.
3. Make it clear. Expectations regarding the little things (clothing, language etc) need to be spelled out (better to be obvious than obscure).  Similarly, the big things (strategic goals, long term plans) should be shared freely with your employees as a way of engendering trust and buy-in. Demonstrate zero tolerance for behaviours that don't fit with your company values.
4. Stop look and listen.  That message is especially for business leaders, who are often too busy running the business to see what's happening on the shop floor.  Pay attention to the lunch room conversations, see what is on the office walls of employees, take heed of their feedback in meetings (and act on it)
5. Make room to move. Whether it's little (what kind of coffee is in the lunch room), middle size (changing the seating plan) or big (allowing team members to contribute to planning, or to give feedback on the company and it's leadership), get people talking.  Encourage conversation and open communications. A secretive organisation is unhealthy. As is an inflexible, prescriptive work environment.
6. Act on it. If something's broken, fix it. If there's an opportunity to improve, take it. If your values include generosity, for example, act on it - buy coffee, give vouchers!
7. Tell a good story.  Develop a great narrative about your organisation and share it.  Live it, believe it, and let others continue to share it on your behalf.  That doesn't mean ''spilling company secrets'' but it does mean creating positive messages about the business and letting word of mouth do the rest.  And if you're telling porkies you're going to get caught out. Refer points 1 through 6.
8. Stay balanced.  If you're a leader, act like a leader - but remain connected to your team.  If you're on your way up, be mindful of your position in the company but keep striving.  If you're in an unbalanced work environment by way of age/gender/other diversity, consider how you could change it. Embrace differences. Listen to advice, take the best from it. Surround yourself with people who are honest in their opinions.  Don't just listen to the things they know you want to hear.

Lower staff turnover, higher productivity, reduced costs, better marketing and publicity. It takes time for sure. It requires effort, sometimes a dash of bravery to maintain. But a strong and healthy company culture means nothings but good things for the business.

a definition of Corporate Culture from Investopedia

The beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. A company's culture will be reflected in its dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.

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