Every enterprise that seeks to make a mark in its sector amongst its customers must have a good culture as its backbone. When you evaluate many formidable corporates, you will find that they have a ‘thing’ – a good product, a reliable after sales support, a world class customer retention style, quality giveaways or a stand out management style. It’s a thing that the closest competitor desires to duplicate but they can’t. They will always come short. That ‘thing’ is sometimes called a culture and it is defined as “the arts, customs, lifestyles, background, and habits that characterize a particular society (people who have come together working towards a common goal while living individual lives). If your enterprise is at a place where you need to have a ‘thing’, we invite you to read on and even if you are working in an organization that is trying to develop its culture or unique attribute, you will find some interesting ideas to work with.
Culture is developed with the end in mind. What do you want of your employees? What do you want for your products and/ or services? Do you want people to know you for excellence or for caring about them? Whatever that end game is, you need to have it very clear in your mind because it influences the how it will be achieved. Much like baking a cake; before you start mixing, you must know what type of cake you want to bake.
I recently made a home menu for the family to complement a workout program and printed it out. I needed to have my house help understand it so that even in my absence she would follow the meal plan. Enterprises are not like the house where you go into your study room, develop the culture map and then come and announce it expecting everyone to follow. You must involve your staff in designing the road map because it is they who will implement it. Anything rammed down their throats will simply result in mechanical application as long as you are around. When you step away, the culture plan is put on the shelf.
Once implemented, there are issues that will come out including how it is being received by customers, how processes are being affected and the general acceptance levels by your staff. The arising issues provide opportunities for you to tweak some things, but the overall plan remains the same. If customers don’t like filling in feedback forms all the time, then implement a better way to get their feedback like calling them after the service is provided.
As in habit formation, one must continuously review if the culture building process is yielding the expected results. A good review is one which is anonymous because then people don’t stage-manage their responses.
I remember one CEO who wanted to have a culture of professional email communication with customers. She would randomly ask her friends and existing customers from various organizations to write an email and they blind copy her. Over time, these emails were used to reward those exemplifying the new culture and to shape training programs for improvement areas. Reviews should not be for punishing noncompliance but rather for identifying improvement areas.
Shape the Sub Cultures
Every culture has several sub cultures and it is important to identify them early otherwise if not shaped correctly, they will end up being the main culture. As an example, a culture of respect for others in an organization can result in fear of the supervisors and managers leading to a close up of the communication channels. Fear of authority becomes a sub-culture which challenges the systems and of not dealt with early, it has a serious impact on performance.
Since the culture is not being formed in a vacuum, we will realize that there is need to improve the original plan over time. Just as a tree is shaped once it begins to spread its branches, one must look out for the opportune moments to do the improvements. Changes are best handled when culture has taken some root in the organization and those changes should not be so farfetched and away from the main culture being formed otherwise it will bring confusion.
Ingrained means being present in the essence of a thing or being fixed/ established. A culture becomes ingrained when new staff cannot be allowed to interact fully with the business without first understanding it and showing evidence of it in their work. For example, when existing employees confess that things are different in a good way e.g. nowadays we take customer feedback seriously and responses are within 24 hours, you begin to know that the customer service culture is taking root.
Be patient, ingraining of a culture is not a 365 days affair. It takes longer because you are dealing with people and the diversity of your organization will influence the time it takes.
For more insights into human relations issues that will influence your profession, career, or work, we recommend the book “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s greatest managers do differently”