Thursday, March 28, 2013

Company Culture

We understand the importance of having a positive company culture. The right culture translates to a situation where we can have the right people, doing the right thing, and heading towards the right direction collectively.

However, most often than not, most company culture are merely a motto, a statement, or even just something the management wants, but hardly anything that reflects the reality.

This creates a divergence of culture, where instead of a cohesive one, now you have two type of cultures, i.e., the perceived culture and the real culture.

People's behavior in an organization defines and forms its culture. This behavior is heavily influenced by the heritage of the firm, the management's direction and working style, the operating procedure, the interaction among co-workers and the working relationships between superiors and subordinates.

When the organization is small in size, most often than not, the congruence of culture can be maintained, as the boss' behaviors will largely influence the formation of company's culture.

However, the complexity increases when the organizational size got bigger. The understanding of what their culture actually is could be blurry.

Management would think that his or her company is "dynamic", " we never give up", "always go the extra miles", "focus on quality" etc...They can verbally communicate or put in writing of what they believe is the "right" culture, but most often than not, effort was not spent in convincing their staff entirely. 

Setting the right culture from the top is not enough. The job is not done yet if you do not make your people buy in to the ideas.

"We want to be the best" conveys a message that the company wants to be no. 1 in some areas. The "what" has been defined, the "how" has been planned out but the people might not buy in fully on the "why".

Just because the management has set the "what" and "how", management would think that things would fall into place automatically, and people should deliver. After all, they are being paid to do what was told.

Some would say that if the employee does what was told, then a culture can be formed. Yes, this is true, but it might not be the "right" culture. 

If the direction is to be "no. 1", how could you expect that the employees would have the belief that "I can be / I am no. 1" if they are just a follower of instructions?

Culture cannot be forced down from the top. Management's role is to provide the strategic direction and a platform to support that. With the right infrastructure, and the right people doing the right role, a positive culture can be formed from bottom up.

If the employees perceive that what they have or what being provided is not sufficient to achieve what was instructed, this is where the culture misalignment happens.

The employees might choose to say no to management, where I guess most employees would not do so for obvious reason (after all, it is not a pleasant nor advisable move to tell your boss that he or she is wrong - career suicidal moves), so they might opt for the easier route - "Do lor, what else can I do?"

The employees do not own the company so ultimately if the culture does not fit, they can always choose to leave and join others. Because of the "do lor" mentality, management might have the impression that their employees are incompetent as they cannot deliver what was expected. So people got reshuffled, disgruntlement and confusion might follow, people leave, people come and here goes the vicious cycle again.

In the end, the perceived culture is still a perceived one, where the real culture leads the employee to an impression that "management is clueless", "they don't know what we want", "this is not the place i want to stay" etc.

A right culture can only be formed if management do what they preach, walk the walk, talk the talk, and stick to the same mantra through thick and thin. People need to buy in the mantra and it should not be something too fictitious or ambitious. A small step at a time would be much more rewarding and believable for the employees, and it might help to drive them to do the right things all the time.

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