By Rana Nejem, Founding Director, YARNU
I hear it so often from business owners: “we just don’t have the time to worry about culture right now.” But, the reality is that if you don’t pay attention to your company’s culture you are simply creating more of the same problems and digging yourself in an even bigger pit.
The culture of any business is essentially a reflection of the values, behavioral style and attitude of the person at the top. If that boss is conscious and aware of what he is reflecting and if he is actively creating the kind of atmosphere that is encouraging the desired behaviour that will help achieve the company’s objectives, then there is alignment – which, unfortunately, is not as common as it should be.
It is so easy to lose sight of those driving values and the effect that the boss’s own behaviour and attitude have on everything that happens throughout the business. The focus of the business owner quickly shifts to the details of running the business and making the numbers, and that not so tangible thing called culture is left to take care of itself.
Most companies at some stage go through that group exercise of defining the mission, vision, and values of their organization. These are then posted on the website and sometimes framed and mounted on some wall around the office. They remain words that are quickly forgotten. Very few – especially in the Arab world – go beyond that into translating those values into actual behaviour. Verbs. Actions. In other words, if I follow you around the office for one week, what do I have to see you do to show me that you are living that value?
We tend to forget that we may be using the same words thinking that it can only mean one thing, but in reality, it means completely different things to different people depending on one’s view of the world.
What does it really mean to be “innovative” or “customer centric”? If I come to work on time am I being customer centric? If I respond to emails promptly does that show that I am living the value of being customer centric? What do these values mean to the company itself? What is the kind of behaviour that helps the company achieve its ultimate objective?
Innovation seems to be the buzz word now, that many companies feel the need to include in their values. But what is the company actually doing to encourage its staff to demonstrate innovation? What is the policy for investing in the growth and development of staff? Is that a priority reflected in the budget? Are the managers and team leaders encouraging intelligent risk taking while providing guidance where needed? Are mistakes and failures accepted? What is the reward and penalty system? Is performance valued regardless of status? Are managers and team leaders supporting staff to respond differently to different situations? Are they given the time and space to think and experiment? Or are they barely keeping up with the daily demands of work?
My work is all about shifting people’s behaviour and attitude, but that does not exist in a vacuum – it is all connected. Everything must be in alignment. It starts with the person at the top. Is he constantly and consistently reflecting that value in everything he says and does? Inspirational and motivational talks about respect and loyalty are not going to work if the boss then turns around and loses his temper at his driver or PA, and doesn’t have the confidence to make other people feel important. Chances are employees are going to mirror that behaviour or otherwise leave the company.
Drucker was not exaggerating when he said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”
No company can afford to leave its culture to take care of itself.
This article was first published on Yarnu’s blog. Rana was a speaker at the 18th Global WIL Economic Forum, which took place last October.