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Feature

WORDS

MICHELLE P. TONNESEN

Corporate culture can have a huge impact on an organisation’s work environment and output.

...the Key to Success Corporate culture is one of the key drivers for the success - or failure - of an organisation. A good, well-aligned culture can propel it to success. However, the wrong culture will stifle its ability to adapt to a fast-changing world. Real life examples of strong and successful corporate cultures are plentiful: Apple, Google, McDonalds and IKEA. So, how do you attempt to understand your corporate culture? And what steps can you take to create a strong corporate culture that will best support your organisation’s activities?

Several different models and theories exist of corporate culture. Key elements to most of them are:

History – A shared narrative of the

past lays the foundation for corporate culture. The traditions of the past keep people anchored to the core values that the organisation was built on.

Values – Cultural identity is formed around the shared beliefs of what is really important, and the values that determine what the organisation stands for. Rituals and routines – The daily behaviour and actions of people that signal acceptable behaviour. This determines what is expected to happen in given situations and what is valued by management. It is also the things that bring employees together, such as social events on Fridays, pasty for all on birthdays, or simply saying good morning to everyone when entering the office. Stories – The past events and people

talked about inside and outside the company. Corporate stories typically exemplify company values, and dramatically capture the exploits of employees who personify these values in action. Stories allow employees to learn about what is expected of them and better understand what the business stands for.

Heroes – Related to stories are the

employees and managers whose status is elevated, because they embody organisational values. These heroes serve as role models and their words and actions signal the ideal to aspire to in a company.

Symbols – The visual representations of the company including logos, how flashy the offices are, and formal or informal dress codes. Structures – This includes both the

structure defined by the organisation chart, as well as the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate whose contributions are most valued. The people who make or influence decisions may not be the ones whose names are on the door to the board of Directors. Culture often becomes the focus of attention during periods of organisational change – when companies merge and their cultures clash - for example, when growth and other strategic change means that the existing culture becomes inappropriate

and hinders rather than supports progress. In more static environments, cultural issues may be responsible for low morale, absenteeism or high staff turnover, with all of the adverse effects these developments can have on productivity. So, for all its elusiveness, corporate culture can have a huge impact on an organisation’s work environment and output. However, in the dire times of a downturn, we feel compelled to make a choice between doing the “right thing” and profit; and we inevitably pick profit. When push comes to shove, we start to see conflicts between what is often perceived as the “softer” aspects of corporate life and our drive to improve the bottom line. We choose control over empowerment. We dispense with the perks and free lunches and start to browbeat employees into greater productivity. We respond to external threats by locking down and cutting back. However, research has shown that those “extras” that we dispense with so quickly, albeit regretfully, are the very things that will lead directly to the specific results we need. This is not a subtle correlation – it is a strong, undeniable one. Organisational culture directly impacts the bottom line. What’s your situation? Is your company growing or established? Does it compete on price or on innovation? Is your industry mature and stable, or new and evolving? With those questions in mind, answer this: What are the cultural elements that you need to encourage in your organisation to build a high-performance culture, and how will you do it? Once you have these answers, really commit to their implementation. Any change that is not permanent and pervasive won’t do it. It has got to be real. It has got to become part of the air your employees breathe. Your corporate culture is key to the identity of your company – how you want to be perceived internally and externally – and essentially what differentiates you from your competitors. Find that key and unlock your true potential to support you in the bad times and excel you in the good. Using your corporate culture proactively, you can create an environment that encourages success, supports the organisation’s objectives and ultimately makes for a better place to work.

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AGENDA | NOVEMBER-DECEMBER | 2013  

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