Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The culture conundrum

Companies today obsess about culture. Big or small, there is fast-growing realization within corporate corridors that commercial concerns acquire a distinctive aura under the culture umbrella.

Corporate culture has almost become the by-word for a credible, legitimate identity that transcends mere profit-making. It's what the brand, the employee proposition and the customer value all get associated with. And there is enough research out there to prove that a defined, robust culture has engaged employees who add value to customer service and relationships. This in turn translates to healthier bottom-lines and satisfied shareholders. In short, a sustainable commercial proposition.

But is this so easily attainable? And what actually defines the culture in an organization? Commercial propositions are coded in hard performance metrics - goals, targets, financials - that are keenly chased and tracked. On the other hand are the softer elements of managing an organization - soft skills, leadership attributes, organizational values. Very often, these become almost synonymous with 'culture', but that's not quite the fact. 

Culture is actually the environment that is created when the 'soft' elements interface with the 'hard' elements. More often than not, these end up in conflict by their very nature; this is the culture conundrum I'm referring to. Aggressive pursuit of targets often means sensitive leadership falling by the wayside. Regulatory environment may see ethical values being short-changed. Obsession with quantitative metrics could lead to qualitative decline. And so gets built a pattern of behaviors that become the organizational culture.

In effect, the practice of the softer elements in pursuit of the hard elements is what organizations need to target to create a desired culture. Here, I'd like to cite an excellent article by Tricia Emerson that articulates What You're Willing to Tolerate Sets The Tone For Your Company Culture .

The more aligned the notions of expected behaviors or values are to their practice and outcomes, the smaller will be the culture gap and the more robust the company's culture.



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