Thursday, March 19, 2015

What’s your Business Culture “Expression”

In all the conversations about culture, keep in mind, it is the policies, procedures, rewards, and retributions that drive behavior, and it is the employee behavior that expresses "culture."

Business culture is the most critical “soft” key factor to decide the business’s success for the long term. However, it’s invisible and untouchable; so what’s your culture “expression”? And how to communicate it and measure culture effectively?

If there was a system for real-time measurement of culture, what should its main focus be? What aspects of culture would you most want management to focus on getting right and why?

The systems, processes and so forth are the clear manifestation of the leaderships' culture: It is the culture that clearly impacts how those policies, procedures, and rewards that drive behavior. It takes leadership to move things in a new direction and to do that without cultural awareness would just cause the leader to likely run into the same brick walls past leaders have encountered. No matter what they say about values, mission, etc. the behaviors they reward are the clearest indication of the culture they are trying to put in place and they drive and reward those behaviors through the implementation of KPIs, policies, processes, etc. Sometimes, this is inadvertent but it means that the "cultural brick walls" they may run into are the direct result of the systems they, themselves, have put in place.

Culture management is an interdependent ecosystem that includes many business factors: The company goals, policies, internal control requirements, customer experience improvements/customer satisfaction, etc., all should be synchronized without compromising the need for any item, staff want to be involved in developing policies and procedures to achieve the organization’s goals, but this has to be meaningful involvement and be seen to be meaningful, don`t ask the staff to develop ideas and then ignore their input. In healthy cultures, everyone is a hero to the customer. In unhealthy cultures (employees under-appreciated), only a truly exceptional individual grows in ways that lead to continuous improvement in customer experience. So it is about the systems and rules put in place that drive behavior, and the fact that often the way businesses reward employees has little to do with the stated intent.

Balance is the key in corporate culture expression: Even if customer-centricity is the business strategy of many forward-thinking organizations, some could run into the troubles due to excessive importance to the customer satisfaction/experience improvements compromising the ultimate company goals, policies, and internal controls. The most effective way of achieving cultural change and improving the customer experience is to keep it simple; and not overcomplicate the process with irrelevant and unhelpful baggage, no matter how tempting it is to do so. Mission statements/statements of intent in pretty colors and flowery wording placed in prominent positions are utterly useless and counterproductive if the workforce knows that what is being claimed/said is untrue. The C-suites can hold as many workshops and consultation events with staff as they like, but are achieving nothing (except to antagonize the staff) if, during these events, they respond to every challenge/query with "I disagree with you" and don't expand on why they disagree or make claims that everyone in the room knows to be untrue.

Researching and validating a culture assessment instrument that measures culture from different perspectives; such as cultural constructs or dimensions of culture and cultural styles. The key issue is that culture is always perception and to obtain an insight into this perception, you need to obtain a spread/number of responses. Only when a broad sample has been obtained can some forms of extrapolation to the group be considered. In Digital Master, we introduce a couple of well popular culture models; the Hofstede Center has an organizational culture survey. It compares the culture to the preferred culture derived from the strategy of the organization. The most important factor in organizational effectiveness, and grossly under-appreciated, largely due to a lack of effective measurement; management teams have the data to discuss finance and throughput regularly and at length, but in many cases culture (and its impact on performance) suffers from extensive ignorance and a lack of collective responsibility - largely because of a lack of measurement. With a baseline, you can measure process. Most of the culture assessment or measurement are not perfect, but it's pretty good and it deals in trade-offs rather than some systems which propose you can be good at everything.
In all the conversations about culture, we need to remember that it is the policies, procedures, rewards, and retributions that drive behavior and it is the employee behavior that expresses "culture." Hence, even culture is invisible, it can be perceived; even culture is untouchable, you can feel it; even culture is intangible, you can measure it. It is the character of your organization and the brand of your business.


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