COMPANY CULTURE STARTS WITH YOU

Ask a person the reason they love to travel, and often they say to experience different cultures. Human beings seem to be intrigued by the social norms and ways of living of their fellow man in different cities and villages around the world. Having the experience and exposure to other cultures somehow adds colour to our own lives, a certain richness.

What we are less aware of perhaps are the unique cultures we create in these environments called workplaces. Just as a travel brochure is not the same as visiting a country, company culture is not what it says in a company handbook or website. It is the experience.

But how can we translate something seemingly ethereal into something more tangible and why is it even necessary?

The ‘spirit’ of a company

Just as any culture around the world is formed over time through traditions, cultural norms, societal needs, forms of communication, behaviours and attitudes, so too is corporate culture.

Through a combination of day-to-day interactions, we create the environments we work in, and those environments come with particular qualities regarding desired and accepted behaviours, attitudes, principles and modes of communication.

There is one main difference though – I am not aware of any society in the world that set out to create a particular culture intentionally, consciously. Instead, the culture morphed through the ages. It could be said some companies morphed in the same way, directed mainly through the attitude and conduct of the board, leaders and managers, and the behaviours that were tolerated.

But if you stop to think about it for a moment, corporate culture gives us a fantastic opportunity. Through our actions, we can shape and form a mini-society that lends itself to our highest ideals. We can enable others to step up to the plate and be their best. We can focus on and achieve a unified purpose and direction.

And quite scary in the wrong hands.

So how do we get it right?

Setting the Tone

If you want to establish the ‘right’ culture – start with yourself. Whether you are aware of it or not, your character, your conduct, value system and manner of treating others is akin to a metronome, the timekeeping device used in music to keep everyone in sync. So ask yourself some key questions:

Who are you, what do you stand for, what drives you? How do you treat others? Are you a person of your word? Can you be trusted? How do you come across – friendly, approachable, aloof, firm but fair?

How do you communicate, what is your preference – formal, structured, agenda-led, walk around the floor? How do people interact with you and react to you?

What is your business ethos and how does it translate into practice?

Your people

The people you surround yourself with and the manner in which you interact with them speaks volumes. If for instance, you are smart enough (and humble enough) to realise that you are not great at everything and surround yourself with people who are ‘better’ than you, you have set the scene for greatness. That is of course if you also create the environment for them to speak their mind and you are open-minded enough to listen.

Measuring success

What does success look like for you and your company? Is it just about profit at all costs? What milestones do you measure and reward? Does the manner in which people reach objectives matter and are they taken into account? Are certain behaviours tolerated, just as long as there are results?

Aligning vision with practice

A lofty and noble vision is all well and good, but it’s what you do in practice that counts.

Do not underestimate the impact that your actions and conduct have in setting the standards and the cultural tone. So ask yourself: Do you want to create an environment in which compromising behaviours are tolerated in the name of profit? Or, do you want to generate an environment that nurtures, develops and engages competence and character, to build great companies that add value to more than just their profit margins?

 

As featured in WorkLab

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WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP – A MIDDLE EASTERN PERSPECTIVE

There is a general look of surprise, even bewilderment when people hear I love working in the Middle East, for the simple reason that I’m a woman.

I understand how there is a perception that women are not respected or highly regarded in the Middle East, therefore making it difficult to fathom how a woman could have a successful business. However, in my experience, there is a chasm between perception and reality, especially since the traits that seem to be more abundant amongst women, such as insight, intuition and inclusion, seem to be trusted and appreciated in the Middle East, enabling us to not only contribute but also play our role in business.

What I find strange and perplexing is some of the rhetoric around women and leadership. A case in point is an article that said 15% of Senior Leadership roles in the City of London were held by women and the majority of those by foreigners. The article went further by attributing this ‘fact’ to the foreign women’s swagger. The truth of the matter is, given London is a global financial centre, there is a strong likelihood that a senior leadership role will have a regional or global focus. If the potential candidates haven’t had any international experience, they don’t qualify, swagger or not.

That said, the ‘swagger’ comment got me thinking, and led me to reflect on the great Arab women I have had the privilege of interviewing and working with. They are highly intelligent, very well-educated and incredibly insightful – ingredients which are prevalent amongst many women around the world. They don’t seek to be liked but rather have the courage of their convictions. They don’t have to speak loudly or demand to be listened to, but they still have their views be known and considered. They tend to talk less and act more. They are compassionate and kind but don’t tolerate fools. Above all else, there is a particular ingredient in their presence and demeanour, described perfectly by a dear friend from the region – “we are salty, not sweet”.

 

From Segregation to Sisterhood

It’s fascinating when you think about it. Yes, women in the region tend to live more segregated lives. Instead of competing with men, they understand and nurture the concept of sisterhood, encouraging and supporting each other. When they get older and enter the corporate realm, government or family business, they are purposeful and have a quiet self-confidence, an inner strength which is ready to come out and be deployed in a broader spectrum. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, they are welcomed in the workplace and encouraged to grow and rise through the ranks. Have they had challenges to overcome? Absolutely. Challenges have shaped their character, balancing their resilience, perseverance and determination, together with their faith, patience and belief in a higher power. Formidable indeed.

So what are some of the ingredients that help foster women’s capabilities that we could use to make our companies more balanced, diverse and better equipped to handle the changing times?

 

Vision & Purpose

If you want to attract, nurture and keep the best women, consider what difference your business makes, why it matters. Frankly, if your business isn’t concerned with anything other than profit, you are going to face challenges in finding and keeping people with character and competence – women or men.

 

Interview From the Inside Out

If you are using an interview only as a checkbox exercise to see if the person has the skills for a particular job, you are missing out on a great opportunity. A person’s CV is merely a scratch on the surface of not only who this person is, but also how far their capabilities can extend. Context is key.

As a starter, why don’t you put the CV aside and get them to tell you their story? Adopt a curious mind, seeking to learn about the person’s experiences that have brought them to the present day. This approach can open up an individual’s character, their way of thinking, approach to challenges, and the environment and factors needed to bring out their best. You never know – you could even learn something along the way.

 

Don’t Hire What You Don’t Appreciate

If you don’t see how someone adds value to your organisation, why hire them? If the person is on board, why aren’t you listening to their viewpoint and perspective? If you want yes people who go along with what you say, you are wasting your money hiring great people. A recorded message to yourself telling you “you’re doing a good job” will suffice. However, if you hire us, listen to us. We have a different perspective. It may not be what you want to hear, but we are here to add value. Allow us – there are skills, traits and natural capabilities just waiting to be engaged. If you don’t appreciate us, we’ll find or create companies that will.

As featured in Women’s Prospects 

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON WORK & ENGAGEMENT

Do we treat people like a one-night stand or do we show the level of commitment we would give someone we want to marry? And once we marry, do we work at keeping the relationship alive, or do we take each other for granted?

I can’t think of many people who don’t want to love what they do and feel they matter. On the other hand, we hear of the difficulties organisations have in engaging their people.

So I thought I’d have some fun and draw a parallel between work and love to identify the ingredients that can help unlock engagement. Let me know what you think 🙂

“Luck – when preparation meets opportunity.”

Just as you are unlikely to meet Mr or Miss Right if you don’t make an effort to go out and meet anyone; a job isn’t going to land in your lap if you do nothing.

When you apply for a job, do you know what you want? Do you know what skills, talents and interests you have? Do you know where and how you can best add value? Or are you so desperate you’re just looking for something that pays the bills? Likewise, when you date someone, instead of looking at the entire list of criteria they should possess, have you taken a close look at yourself to see what you bring to a relationship?

Oh how exciting, someone wants me, they’ve asked me for an interview/date.

The question itself seems to validate someone’s worth. Someone noticed them. Hope rekindles.

And then the panic sets in. What questions will they ask me? What should I wear? Am I ready? All along masking the underlying question – am I good enough, will I be accepted?

So you plough through endless blogs and articles, studying the dos and don’ts, making mental notes of what to say and not to say, all along contorting yourself into a bag of knots.

The bigger question is – if you haven’t accepted yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

It’s fine (for now)

Have you ever known anyone who is dating someone who they’re not planning on marrying? Have you ever heard anyone accept a job offer saying they’ll look for something else? It begs the question – what’s the point? Is the other person aware of the lack of intention or are they investing in something they hope will lead somewhere?

It’s not in what you say; it’s in what you do.

Do we have all experienced people who have promised the world, but have they come through? Are they a person of their word or do they come up with platitudes and countless apologies while still showing the same behaviours?

As human beings we want to believe what people say, believe in them and that this time it’s different. And yet we keep experiencing the same letdowns. At some point, one needs to realise the common denominator to these disappointments is ourselves. Are we discerning enough? Do we look for consistencies between what a person says and does? Do we have the courage and belief in ourselves, what we stand for and represent to say ‘this isn’t for me’ and look for what is right?

Many people seem to behave like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters – so eager to fit into the glass slipper; they’ll contort themselves into all kind of shapes and sizes to fit in and be accepted. But after a while, those feet will hurt – just as the pain of not being oneself will one day become too hard to bear. So if you want engagement, use the four-letter word rarely uttered in the workplace – love.

COMPANY CULTURE STARTS WITH YOU

COMPANY CULTURE STARTS WITH YOU

Ask a person the reason they love to travel, and often they say to experience different cultures. Human beings seem to be intrigued by the social norms and ways of living of their fellow man in different cities and villages around the world. Having the experience and...

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP – A MIDDLE EASTERN PERSPECTIVE

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP – A MIDDLE EASTERN PERSPECTIVE

  There is a general look of surprise, even bewilderment when people hear I love working in the Middle East, for the simple reason that I’m a woman. I understand how there is a perception that women are not respected or highly regarded in the Middle East,...

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON WORK & ENGAGEMENT

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON WORK & ENGAGEMENT

Do we treat people like a one-night stand or do we show the level of commitment we would give someone we want to marry? And once we marry, do we work at keeping the relationship alive, or do we take each other for granted? I can’t think of many people who don’t want...

DO BUSINESS PRACTICES IMPACT PROFITABILITY?

 

For a company to thrive, it needs to ensure the wellbeing and level of satisfaction with its stakeholders – investors, employees, suppliers and customers. Recent times have seen how bad conduct results in negative publicity, poor company image and a drop in share price. So should a company adopt ethical practices as a means of improving and securing a company’s economic performance?

Risk Mitigation

According to EIRIS, studies show that ethics-related news influences a company’s share price for better or worse, revealing effects of between 0.5% and 3% of the share price.

The lesson to be extrapolated from the shift in share price is the underlying knock-on effects on the dynamics and relationships that enable that business to thrive, and ultimately the level of trust and confidence in management. Without this trust, stakeholders tend to limit investments, negatively affecting growth.

Private companies may argue this doesn’t affect them since they don’t have a share price. However, they still have other stakeholders to bear in mind, especially customers, suppliers, employees and themselves as the ultimate owner of the asset – its value, reputation and standing.

 

People Taking Care of People

Employees prefer to work with companies that treat them with dignity, respect and fairness. Creating an environment in which employees feel they matter has a residual benefit in propelling them to create positive experiences for customers. However, if employees see, hear or experience negative behaviour, it erodes their trust in and loyalty to the company, and the quality of care they feel compelled or empowered to portray to customers.

 

Customer Satisfaction

Companies with high levels of customer satisfaction tend to generate a higher degree of customer loyalty, repeat business and more market share in the long run. Customers may decline to deal with a company that causes them to be suspicious and afraid. Businesses that genuinely contribute to their community and maintain good relationships with other companies tend to be more successful in the long run. On the flip-side, those who have corporate social responsibility efforts on the one hand but poor business practices on the other, are in danger of breeding cynicism into their customers, and mistrust.

 

Creating Value

Ethical business practices are sound business practices. Instead of being consumed by unnecessary lawsuits and other activities that detract from the mission and purpose, the business can focus on producing quality products and services that enable positive financial results for the company.

 

Financial Health

Beyond regulatory requirements, accurate financial records are essential for sound decision-making and long-term success. Financial records provide an overview of return on effort, a tool to support business to measure its rewards for initiatives taking place in the marketplace. Sound and timely financial records are essential in determining the trajectory of the company, and the ability to course correct where and when necessary. They also provide the ability to respond quickly to opportunities, without adding strain or unwarranted risk. Furthermore, a clear picture on the financial situation of the company will enable it to have the cash flow required to fulfil its commitments, a sound business practice to keep employees and maintain relationships with suppliers.

 

Green Practices

Whether you’re chopping trees or hugging trees, people look for returns.

The fact of the matter is if you don’t keep an eye on your bottom line, the business will be unsustainable. The bottom line is affected by people’s perception, belief and likability of your company. The internet and social media have provided stakeholders with the tools to have a greater insight into the impact businesses have on our environment and society. Customers seek to do business with companies that reflect their values, and suppliers and investors would be wise to follow suit.

 

Unforeseen Circumstances

It is far easier to set off on the right foot in the first place than trying to course correct once calamity hits. That said, genuine errors and unforeseen circumstances do happen. The ability for a business to respond appropriately and speedily speaks volumes in the eyes of stakeholders. However, waiting until a crisis strikes to instil and encourage good behaviours is a poor strategy given the time it takes to overhaul embedded systems, beliefs and practices. These changes result in delayed decisions, negative public opinion and a downward spiral in relationships with stakeholders – not good practice for any business that needs customers, employees, suppliers and investors to thrive.

Some may still argue why change when some are getting away with it. Others may wait for regulatory bodies to force them to clean up their business practices, and there will be those who choose to see the tide is shifting – that the manner in which we produce and deliver products and services matters. Now is an excellent time to challenge the ills we tolerate under the guise ‘but this is business’ and start by acting responsibly in the first place.

 

 

Featured in Fresh Business Thinking

HOW TO ATTRACT THE BEST PEOPLE

Searching for talent is about fixing a problem – that of finding the right person to tackle a business opportunity or challenge. Contrary to popular view, the toughest challenge is not finding the right talent. It is finding great companies to find talent for. This is because the objective is not merely to find talent but to retain it and get the best out of it.

In Executive Search, potential candidates are typically happy and successful in their current roles. In my experience, more than 80% of cases involve international relocation. This brings with it an extra layer of complexity – that of moving house and in the case of children, school.

So what are the markers that ensure the new environment would be such that the person, and their family, would settle in and stay?

Purpose

Companies need to present a compelling proposition that candidates can relate to and connect with. A company whose sole objective is to make profit with no sense of meaningful purpose or differentiator, have a tougher time attracting the right people. It doesn’t have to be complicated but something that is real and the company is committed to pursuing.

Principles in Practice

Mission statements are great but what happens in reality is what matters. People joining and working in an organisation want to ensure their own personal values will not be compromised. There is no point in brandishing a set of values if the modus operandi and decision-making does not reflect this in reality. The spin and facade might bring them into the organisation, but it will not bring out the best in them and it will not keep them.

People

The leadership and team already in place impact the quality and calibre of talent a company will be able to attract. High calibre talent looks for environments in which they can grow, excel, contribute and thrive. Leaders needs to have the ability and foresight to bring out the best in people, providing them with the tools and resources to succeed. The team needs to foster collaboration, trust and mutual respect, a cohort of colleagues with different yet complementary capabilities one can resonate with.

Performance

High ideals are great but for a company to be successful it needs to deliver. Failure to do so will result in poor financial results and the inability to support its employees. This takes appetite, commitment and follow through. For instance, if the problem to be fixed is the financial well-being of the company where a turnaround is required, the company needs to ensure they have the willingness and ability to bring about the change. There is no point in hiring people if they are hindered from doing what is necessary to deliver.

 

Packages

Fair compensation is key. That said, I would ward off anyone hiring a person whose sole motivation is the financial package. This is for the simple reason that unless the individual is aligned and committed to the mission, there is always the next biggest bidder willing to dangle a bigger carrot. It is important for people to feel they are fairly rewarded for their efforts. Compensation packages need to be fair and look at the person in terms of return on investment and effort. Companies also need to ensure the metrics they are measuring and rewarding are in alignment with the business’s objectives and principles. Avoid conflict that arises from mismatched incentive programmes – this is a sure way to demotivate people and create an atmosphere of resentment.

Process

The process through which you take a potential candidate can make or break your hire. From interviewing to induction, getting bogged down in HR processes is a sure way to turn off top talent.Talented individuals want to get a handle on the business environment, the vision and the task at hand. They are looking for data that will enable them to determine if this is the type of company they are best suited for and if they are fit for the mission at hand. If the role requires a relocation, a broader set of decision criteria will be at play. My counsel would be to identify who else is affected by the move and include them in the process.

Ultimately, companies need to ensure they have the ability to understand a candidate’s capabilities, character, concerns and level of commitment. Only in this way will you ensure you have people on board with the right fit – and cultural fit is essential for people to thrive in and add value to your business.

Deborah drives business as a force for good, building companies that create value, in both financial and social terms.

Did this resonate and you’d like to know more? Please get in touch for your confidential one-to-one.

inSight - Salty not Sweet

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