What The Culture!

It was 11 a.m. on a warm Wednesday morning. Here I was at the office of a client, with whom I was working on a consulting assignment. I was scheduled to meet up with key senior level managers within the company. It was my first major meeting as a part of this assignment. The clock struck 11.10, went on to 11.15 and then 11.20…I was left waiting anxiously in the meeting room. Finally, a few minutes post 11.20 a.m., one soul who seemed utterly disinterested walks in. Over the next 12 minutes, the rest of the 7 managers came in. A meeting which was pre-scheduled to start at 11 a.m., finally started off at 11.35 a.m!

On being politely asked by me on the reasons for being late and in case any of them was earlier not informed on the meeting, I received a few blank expressions and unconvincing excuses. Once the meeting was underway, most of the folks seemed distracted. It was supposed to be a discussion with the managers doing all the talking and me the listening. As their colleagues were speaking on issues relevant to each one of them, most of the other managers were glued to their cellphones texting away in all glory and checking their emails. Although I found this gesture disrespectful to their peers as well as to me, decided to let it pass this one time, since it was a new assignment for me.

One of the company promoters had brought me in as a consultant for this assignment. Other than an introductory meeting in which the mentioned promoter was present, I did not have a prior detailed interaction with the C-suite executives within the company. These executives seemed to be experienced professionals. However, post my discussion with the senior managers on that Wednesday, I started to have meetings with the CXOs as well. Discussions with other members across various levels within the organization, also happened. I observed the same trend that I had in my very first meeting repeating itself. Delayed entry into meetings, being constantly distracted and of course being stuck with their friendly mobile phones. The similar set of actions, irrespective of the hierarchy, made me realise that such behaviours were deeply ingrained within the invisible fabric weaving the organisation – it’s CULTURE.

An organisation’s culture cannot be seen or heard, it can only be felt. This makes it even the more difficult to describe. However, it is one of the key reasons as to why people choose to leave or stay back. As per a corporate culture study, 10% of employees leaving an organization to join elsewhere, come back within 6 months due to cultural challenges at their new employer. What makes superlative organisational culture so difficult to build and even more tough to maintain? And the answer is – because it is collective responsibility. Culture is based on values. No one person or a set of few individuals including the top leadership team can guarantee an exemplary culture. The leaders can show the way and exemplify the values of the organisation, however, it is upto every team member to be a catalyst in enabling the culture to thrive.

Jay Wilkinson, Founder & CEO of Firespring an US based integrated marketing and software company, mentions that creating the right culture is never an end by itself, neither is it a means to an end. Rather, it is a continuous journey of doing the right thing in the right way throughout the organization. Firespring has been recognised by Inc. magazine as one of the Top 50 companies to work for in the US in the year 2016. It continues it’s focus on constantly upholding it’s corporate values and sustaining it’s robust culture. While hiring any new team member, Firespring focuses on the cultural-fitment first and then the skills-fitment.

Culture, in today’s day and age, is also a factor of competitive advantage. A Forbes magazine study on workplace culture, precisely mentions that with access to resources such as money and time, an organisation’s competitors can effectively acquire any asset be it infrastructure, technology or star performers, however the one critical ingredient of success which it cannot replicate is the culture. No! Offering free lunch or fringe benefits by itself cannot be an indicator of a company’s culture. A fabulous culture goes way beyond that. It is a fact that to create an enduring organisation, it is essential to create an enduring positive culture.

Pertaining to another organisation that I was associated with and the workplace culture of which I found excellent, below are 4 of my observations.

1.Leaders: The top management and leaders influence the culture in a major way. The culture of the organisation is a reflection of the values that they espouse and the behaviors that they demonstrate.

2.Team Members: It is the rest of the organisation, other than the leaders who actually create the culture. The top management can set the value systems in place, however establishing an outstanding workplace culture, requires the efforts of one and all.    

3.Communication: The constitutional principle leading to a fantastic culture is open communication – both inter-level as well as intra-level. More often than not, an organisation with transparency in communication and openness in accepting feedback, develops a great culture.

4.Continuity: Just like basic recurring activities in everyday life such as eating food or taking a shower, culture building needs to be a continual activity. It can never be a one-time or a temporary process.

Professor Peter Drucker, the renowned management thought leader and author famously mentioned that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. However, from my experiences, I take the liberty to borrow Professor Drucker’s quote and rephrase it as “Culture can eat strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” It is such important an organisational virtue. Do you feel the same. Please feel free to share your experiences on workplace culture…raise your Eclat! 

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