Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Company culture for the real world

We've all read the blogs and articles that say quite clearly that after strategy, company culture is key to the success of your business, but how can you translate the psycho-babble into real world techniques that are actually deployable within your organisation, even if you are not a FTSE / Fortune 500 company.

The following blog is my own personal way of doing things, I don't claim it to be anything approaching industry standard, though it does work, and draws upon initiatives that have been rolled out across highly successful organisations all over the world – if anyone else has other ideas – pitch them in, always glad to hear of other techniques.

One of the biggest hurdles in tackling culture is acknowledging that the road to success is nothing if not long, , you will wonder if, A) its working, B) its worth it and, C) whether it is going to result in a bottom line improvement.

Its absolutely key that you keep the faith with the plan, follow it through, it WILL work.

Okay, so we know its going to be tough but in the end of benefit, how do we start? 

Naturally as with anything in business it must be planned, and the first stage of planning requires us to health-check the current culture that you have. Don't necessarily assume that it is ripe for change, things may be coming along just fine, and merely require a little tweaking to get things on track, be prepared however to have a top to bottom re-vamp.

What are the signs of poor culture? This is a valid question, and one that for senior management is hard to answer. There are few ways that we can actually measure the culture within the company, though there are a couple of tricks to deploy, the chief of these is employee retention stats, the other is your staff sickness record. If you ask people how happy / motivated / engaged they are at work, the chances are that you will not get a particularly accurate response – for varying reasons.

If you are a big player with deep pockets, you might design a psychometric test that is able to determine how your team is feeling, but for most of us, that just is not an option.

For the most part assessing the business will need a qualitative approach, and this is often where specialist advice is sought, as, its the type of thing that cannot be undertaken by anyone in your business in a position of authority for fear of self interest creeping into staff responses.

Phase 1 – reactive culture

Lets skip a step here, lets assume that you have checked staff retention and sickness figures, they are slightly worse than the average for your industry, you have also run a qualitative assessment with staff, and have identified some key areas that lead to staff feeling disengaged or otherwise undervalued, be careful not to ignore what you might think is trivial, such as the quality of coffee from the machine ( its all valid, though obviously some things are more valid than others).

Also be very careful to be as objective as possible (easier said than done I know) I have had experience where a number of issues have cropped up within businesses that staff and bosses have been wrangling over for years, and as a  result  has driven a wedge between shop floor and management. 

If an 'old chestnut' of worker dissatisfaction crops up, look at it as an opportunity – an opportunity to make the solving of this issue a standard bearer for the new regime – if it can be finally resolved, it will work wonders.

What you now have is the raw data with which to build a plan, I would of course at this stage recommend that the plan is SMART and that critically it is 'bought into' at the highest level of the business.

What of course we have here is very much a reactive plan, that deals with issues that prevent good culture, what they will not do alone is create great culture

Phase 2 – proactive culture

Once the reactive issues have been resolved take the process to phase 2, this is the hardest part, taking a now content workforce, and transforming them into fully engaged motivated people, not afraid to come up with ideas, always willing to give 100%

This is the part of the process which owes less to common sense, and more to creativity, but also its the part that generates the most business benefit.

Whilst it would be folly to try to tell you how to go about a phase 2 process in great detail, what I can tell you is that one of the prime issues to resolve is to stop managing the business and start leading it. In short manager's must be obeyed, however leaders inspire. Great I hear you cry, but how do we do that?????

In general a leader will trust staff more than a manager, they will work hard to set the example, give praise when its due (publicly) Let's face it people have written books on the subject, so I'm not even going to approach to do it justice in these few paragraphs, suffice to say management books need to be thrown away at all levels, to be replaced by a culture of leadership.

As for other techniques, look at companies with great culture, call them, talk to them, get under the skin of what worked for them, so that you can replicate their success.

Once in full swing keep monitoring your retention and sickness levels on a monthly basis, this will help to determine the degree of your success, you should also start to see profitability rise (though not *necessarily* turnover)

In conclusion

To some getting the culture in a business right can feel a little like the tail wagging the dog, after all you are doing a lot of listening to what effects the workforce, and it can feel like you are indulging them – however you must fight that feeling. 

Those in your business who are not the right for your culture, usually the ones taking advantage of the new regime, and giving little back in terms of extra commitment and diligence – this is where you need to get tough, if its just not happening, perhaps they need to find work some place else. Don't shirk this, everyone from the top to the bottom needs to have bought in fully – otherwise its just not going to work.

Hopefully this blog has given you some thoughts on how cultural change can be worked through in your business, perhaps you disagree with my methods? You can adapt change, or indeed do the exact opposite of what I am suggesting – at least thought has been provoked.

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