“People are becoming increasingly intolerant of companies without a Collaborative Culture …”~ Roger Fairhead
If the people driving the strategy aren’t passionate about the change you want to make, then you stand no chance of implementing a plan.
What is corporate culture?
I first noticed corporate culture when I moved to my second employer. I didn’t know that work environments could be so different! I had been with my first employer – a multinational manufacturing company – for 10 years, and so until I moved to a new company I had no understanding of “Company Culture” at all. All I knew was what I had experienced. We were a “no-frills” company, and a part of the culture was to make sure that you held on to the best office furniture that you could accumulate as people moved on through. If someone got a promotion, moved to a different department or handed in their notice then the rest of the team would be on the lookout for a furniture upgrade – perhaps a more comfortable chair or maybe a newer filing cabinet.
When I moved to the next company I found such a different culture. Everyone had the same, modern, curved desk with matching under-desk drawers on rollers and roll-front filing cabinets. Everyone. Every piece of office furniture was more modern than at the previous firm, and all of the drawers and filing cabinets worked! There were no upgrades wanted or needed. However, there was the location of your desk in the office, now that was something that could be upgraded.
“Culture’s all that invisible stuff that glues organizations together”~ David Caldwell
When I moved to my next employer, now I discovered a totally new culture. At both of the previous – multi-national – firms, any interpersonal correspondence was sent to a role. The head of this, the manager of that, or the clerk in charge of something else. Sometimes we would include the name of the recipient if you happened to know who it was. Now, at the new firm, nothing was sent to a role, and everything was sent to a person. I’d send a memo to Steve, because he ran the Drawing Office, or to Andy because he managed procurement.
Then, some years later I was working with an international organisation with colleagues in over 40 countries and we only ever met online, with the rare exception when we travelled to meet up in person. Now we had a company culture to understand, and we also had to deal with the national culture that each team member would bring with them too.
The thing is, rather as fish don’t see water, it can be very difficult to see and identify the cultural environment that we are in. Yet, we can all feel it, and we can all feel it if someone new comes into the team who doesn’t “get” that culture.
It’s rather as if we work, rest and play in a set of “cultural echo chambers”. In each environment we inhabit – whether that’s at work, at home, or perhaps at a club or other group – we all tend to agree with a particular set of values, standards and views as expected and accepted by the others in the group. Or we learn which sub-set of views are readily accepted by the other members of the group or team we are part of and focus on that, and that’s the very stuff that keeps a group or team functioning consistently. Culture for a team or group has many of the same hallmarks as those represented by a person’s character, and in each case that represents our destiny.
“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”~ Tony Hsieh (Zappos)
“What’s the best way to build a brand for the long term? In a word: culture.”
What’s the best way to see a person’s true character? Take a look at how they work, act and respond when they’re under pressure. It’s the same for a company. One of the best ways to see company culture is to watch how it performs when under pressure. And we’ve had no better opportunity to see both character and culture during the last couple of years while the pandemic has put companies and the people who work in them under the most intense pressure!
We can see examples of corporate culture all around us and I have several blogs waiting to be published to share the stories and examples of remarkable culture seen in companies like Continental Airlines, Ford Motor Company and Disney, and to contrast that with some recent stories of outrageous culture such as that demonstrated at Boeing that caused 737 Max aeroplane crashes in 2018 and 2019 (as demonstrated in the film entitled “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing”), and the remarkably poor example of culture demonstrated by the owners of P&O with their recent mass staff sacking in 2022. Earlier this year, P&O made its staff redundant with immediate effect in a two-minute thirty-second pre-recorded zoom event. Not entirely in line with their declared Culture as published on their website.
At P&O Cruises … our highest responsibility and top priority is … the health, safety and well-being of … our shipboard and shoreside employees … we aspire to be an exemplary corporate citizen leaving the people and the places we touch even better.Our Shared Vision & Culture
The P&O Culture was exposed for what it is, rather than what it said. The old adage turns out the be true for P&O, “Actions speak louder than words, don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do”.
So what! How does that apply to me?
I used to say that it’s remarkably easy to give up smoking – I know because I’ve done it loads of times. When I finally managed to stop for good there was a key difference. I started to think of myself as a non-smoker, not as a smoker trying to stop. I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my adult life, and the times when I have managed to shed some pounds to get in shape, I have been most successful when I’ve thought of myself as someone who is fit and healthy and acted accordingly.
The difference is that I would ask myself “what would a non-smoker do?”, or “what would a fit, healthy person do?”, and then I’ve done that. I’ve pre-decided my response to any situation I might face based on what I wanted my conduct to be like, and I’ve been intentional. I’ve reinforced that by having some metrics around to monitor the alignment and effectiveness of my actions in relation to my preferred outcome.
It works the same way with developing any aspect of personal character or corporate culture. To improve your culture, you need to find a way to notice it, spot it in action or measure it, to strengthen it and observe the resulting outcome.
People don’t do what you expect but what you inspect.~ Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Some years ago I identified three particular values that I hold dear, and that I wanted to strengthen in my personal character. I remember them using the acronym PIE.
- Passion: I have a clear purpose, coupled with an eager desire to make a sustainable, measurable, worthwhile difference
- Integrity: Genuine integrity leads to the sort of influence that makes a difference.
- Empathy: I recognise, and seek to understand and value different perspectives.
These are values that are important to me, to my family and to my business, and they are important in my journey through life. Sadly they are all still in need of further work, and although I fail in the pursuit of these values from time to time they are at the top of my aspirational list. How I measure my progress is by seeking out and monitoring my failures – both errors of omission and of commission – holding myself to account whenever I come across them, and by an ongoing pursuit of education and growth in a regular personal review process.
About Roger Fairhead
Roger is a Leadership specialist and uses the PRIZE Winning Leadership model to help leaders improve their effectiveness and that of their teams, through remote and on-site delivery of keynotes, group training events and individual coaching sessions.
He is the author of several books including "PRIZE Winning Leadership" and “Personal Productivity Planner”, a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK with extensive experience in Project Management and Sales.
“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.
Roger also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.