08 Aug How to Create a Winning Company Culture?
In 2015, I joined one of the largest global corporation. It was my first time to work for such a large enterprise. I heard about the term company culture, but I thought it was some theoretical “BS” that helps HR staff to get some importance.
During the first few weeks, we had several trainings about the products, compliance, and the company’s culture. Theoretically, it was an awesome culture: Integrity, Collaboration, Innovation, etc. I felt very excited to be part of this company. 3 months later, I understood this culture only existed on paper.
Side Note: in a small to medium company, because things tends to be more efficient, more at human scale, we take it for granted. Lesson learnt: never take anything for granted!
Dream Vs. Reality
The company’s culture portrayed by the management and HR team simply did not exist. I realized that everyone was working in its own little kingdom, and in order to cooperate (not collaborate), you needed to bargain with them. There was a culture of “don’t bother me”, with people trying to stay away from any action – the less they do, the less problem they will encounter. At the same time, there was also a “vulture culture” where as soon as something was done (i.e. deal closed) everyone wanted to be part the team who did all the work, in order to gain rewards and status.
Because I was in the sales department, there were a lot of different people involved in a deal: product manager, consultant, direct manager, other sales rep (selling other products), etc. Instead of being a team, we were like in a “marketplace” where all of us worked for a different stall, and we were competing to sell our products, betraying each other in order to hit our target or for some others, trying to hide to avoid having any problem.
I was so shocked. People were unwilling to help – even for some simple questions. If it did not serve their direct interests, they would ignore you at best.
And what happened internally impacted our external environment (partners, customers, allies, etc.).The customers were complaining about it – too many sales rep to meet for any project, no coordination between teams. It was messy.
Then, I started wondering why people were acting this way? What pushed them to be so selfish? Despite having such team structures, how could you create a better team spirit with more collaboration.
Why a great company culture matters?
A “good” company culture is very important. Peter Drucker said “Organizational Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner”.
Having a great culture offers several benefits: having the people within your organization, working together to achieve any objective, lower turnover, greater growth, increase of revenue, employee engagement and satisfaction.
In my opinion, the most important benefit of a great culture is: it brings an efficient and smooth execution – no matter whether this is about innovation, strategy design, or sales execution. Your company culture (when applied) will allow a better execution by having your employees “naturally”, willing by themselves, to get the job done. Your company culture will be a critical element in your strategy.
Culture is like the oil in a machine – without it, there will be frictions and then it will get broken.
How to create a great company culture?
There are a lot of different style of company cultures, but the style does not matter. We need to think about what’s the aim behind creating a great company’s culture:
- Positive and Proactive Collaboration
- Employee Engagement
- Employee Satisfaction
- Efficiency in Execution
- Continuous improvement
The complexity of a company culture is that anything will impact it. Any process, any decision, any responsibilities, any reward, any sanction, etc. Because, you can’t have a perfect company culture, the best thing you can do is to minimize the risk of having a toxic culture.
In order to create a great company culture, you need to ensure that your team member’s interest are aligned. This is a critical point. Alice Zhou from PwC said: “ the key to unlocking performance via organizational culture is to align company culture to business priorities” in this article.
You cannot control people’s behavior, you can influence how they will behave. It’s very simple.
Aligning people’s interests: two approaches
There are two approach to align interests: the Horizontal approach will align interests between different team members. The Vertical approach is a top down approach where Leadership will ensure the business priorities are taking care of.
The Horizontal Approach
Regarding the Horizontal Approach, interests of each team members can be aligned if the expected outcomes (a.k.a. business priorities) are aligned for each team member. What should be aligned is the outcome the team members should deliver, individually and as a team.
|Difference between Role/Responsibilities (interests) and Business priorities (outcome)|
For example, if a sales manager is allowed to hide behind her sale rep when there is a problem, you can expect her to play safe every time something bad happens. In order to avoid this kind of situation, both rewards and sanctions must go to both the sales manager and sales rep – at the same time and in the same place.
The best way for people to feel in a team is to blame the people concerned collectively and remind them of what is expected from them.
When you put the outcomes as the first priority, you will attributes resources, rewards, sanctions in a different way. When people stays within their role, they will just look at what the company expect from this specific role, not the business priorities, or the outcomes the company is seeking. This is a major difference!
The kind of behavior such as “I don’t know the price because I am the consultant” or “I don’t know the technical part because I am the sales rep” won’t be happening. When team members know that the outcome is superior to their roles, when they know they can’t hide behind their role to avoid a blame, when they know all their efforts will be appreciated and recognized, their behavior will change naturally.
More importantly, you will see people starting to collaborate more, to share information, as this will be in their own interest because they judged on the same objectives.
The Vertical approach
When you want to look for efficiency in your organizational culture, you need have a clear cut on which department is leading other departments: this is the Vertical Approach – that will depends on the business priorities that you have.
For instance, if customer acquisition is your top priority, your sales department will be leading other teams to achieve the company’s KPI. Think about Sales Strategy: what resources we need to leverage to achieve this goal?
When the business priorities are publicly defined, when the leadership has been clearly attributed and identified by all teams, then the team members will understand that their role is to support other’s roles for achieving XYZ outcome.
For example, when a team selling product A and B, and another team selling product C and D pitch the same customer. What will happen is both team have to hit their KPIs, they will not or reluctantly put the customer’s interests first.
The leader of both team must evaluate the customer’s best interests, help to position the relevant the solutions for this customer and pitch with both team.
In this case, you would need your leadership to have clear communication guidelines, reinforce a culture a collaboration through rewards and sanctions, and constantly demonstrate the past successes of the company’s culture (in details).
Each team is evolving in a limited or defined environment, the company leadership must show that there are bridges between teams,
By validating that collaboration offers higher results than “lone wolves” type of attitude, teams will be more willing to openly seek each other for help.
Culture & Change
Culture is alive. In other words, culture will need to adjust some time to time. However, the value that define your company culture will stay for the long term.
This a crucial difference. Whatever values your company will cherish and promote as a core part of its culture, there will be some “flexible parts” that will need to be adjusted according to specific business priorities in a defined period of time.
The Japanese principle of Kaizen offers a chance for companies to stay on top of their game. Kaizen means “continuous improvement” and it involves all departments and employees. A successful Kaizen lies on a decentralized system. Based on voluntarily basis, employees, departments and line of business will participate to improve the current business processes such as collaboration, admin, marketing, etc.
When you let the people on the ground sending you the feedback, as a manager, you will know what to do in order to be more efficient and achieve greater results with lesser efforts. Because you allow people giving you feedback directly on how to improve their productivity and efficiency – freely, it will be faster to resolve issues and roadblocks that might not be known by the leadership.
In conclusion, culture is the critical element of strategy execution. You cannot afford to hope that the culture you dream of, will happen in your company. A whole system needs to be created in order to influence behavior that will reflect the culture you desire.