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?

 

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MORAL COURAGE AND CORPORATE CULTURE

It is not in calm seas that our character and integrity are tested but in times of crisis. It is at these times that mistakes are likely to happen.

When people think of ethics and social responsibility in the corporate context, they perceive it as a simple matter of determining what is right and wrong. Since we do not live in a world where decisions are a matter of black or white but more in shades of grey, steering the right course is not always a clear cut decision. With increased diversity of cultures and nationalities in the workplace, the topic of ethics and social responsibility becomes ever more complex, and one that should be treated with attention and focus.

Every company in hiring executives seeks people with integrity and good moral standards, but how do these translate to the corporate culture?

Every organisation has a value system. But is what the company says it stands for and the value system communicated, aligned with desired behaviours, practices and reward systems? There is little point in having formal policies and procedures that prescribe one mode of behaviour, if people are positively rewarded for achievements where an alternative and ‘non-desirable’ behaviour is applauded in terms of raises, bonuses and promotions.

Sharing the value system of an organisation enables the individuals within it to look within themselves and align their values and subsequent behaviour with that of the organisation, making them stronger people and better corporate citizens. Making this a topic of continual attention in an organisation has a resultant impact on the level of openness, integrity and trust amongst colleagues. Research has shown that in organisations with such systems, people within the organisation are motivated to not only be stronger representatives but better enabled to handle turbulent times such as change or crisis management. Continual attention to ethics in the work place sensitises leaders and staff to how they want to act consistently. And this comes from the top – leaders who lead by example will set the tone for the whole organisation to follow.

Ethics programmes have also been shown to support employee growth and development. A study cited in the Wall Street Journal found a direct correlation between the level of emotional health of an executive and the results of a battery of tests on ethics.

Having ethics as part of the organisation’s agenda better prepares employees to face reality with the resultant effect that they feel more confident and ready to deal with whatever comes their way.

Another benefit is the impact ethics can have on a company’s public image if people perceive those organisations as valuing the manner in which business is conducted more than profit. Recent years have seen greater attention to this factor, with more companies reporting on their social responsibility and analysts making it part of their agenda in their valuation of company stock.

In the meantime, we need to ask ourselves how are we contributing to the sustainability and longevity of the local economy? How are we ensuring that our actions have a positive contribution for the next generation and beyond?

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GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR BOARD

While internal boardroom politics are the bane of many an executive’s existence, getting your board members working in the same direction can be a vital step towards a successful CEO tenure.

Corporate governance has brought with it greater scrutiny of the board, its role, its composition and its effectiveness, and we are ever more aware of the importance of independence and ethical guidelines. And when one looks at the composition of several boards, there are general rules of thumb that are followed. But looking across a number of organisations, it can be seen that although some companies’ boards have the “right” mix in terms of backgrounds and skills of the individual directors, some have more of an impact than others.

So, if it is not structure, what is it that makes a good board? Research documented in the Harvard Business Review stresses that the key ingredient is the social element as opposed to the structure per se.

Just as the chemistry in a well-functioning, successful team cannot be quantified, it nonetheless is a key, determining component that is present in effective boards.

There are five key elements that can help a CEO foster the optimum environment in which the board, and each member within it, performs at their best: creating a climate of trust and candour; fostering a culture of open dissent; harnessing the mix of different roles; ensuring individual accountability and performance evaluation.

Climate of trust

Creating a climate of trust and candour is a virtuous cycle whereby board members develop mutual respect, therefore developing trust, and hence enabling the sharing of difficult information. The CEO needs to be transparent and open in information sharing, providing documents with ample time for them to be read and digested. This will enable all members to have the same level of information and so allow for more balanced discussion and a better- informed decision process.

The CEO should also give board members free access to people who can answer their questions, such as creating opportunities to meet key company personnel and inspecting company sites. Encouraging different board members to engage in this kind of activity and spending time together creates more unity and minimises the exposure or risk of factions. Providing free access to information and key personnel also eliminates the need and/or desire of individual members to create “back access” to information leading to them breaking away from the team and creating possible factions.

Open culture

In an environment of trust and mutual respect, healthy debate is encouraged where assumptions are challenged. This ensures issues are thoroughly discussed and each member has the opportunity to voice his viewpoint.

The CEO should not punish or discourage rebels or nonconformists, but instead use the opportunity to learn. It is through these interactions that people’s perspectives are challenged and horizons expanded. The CEO should leverage the knowledge and wisdom of the members of the board. Having a thorough understanding of members’ positions and their justifications opens opportunities to new conclusions and stronger decisions.

Research conducted by Eisenhardt and Bourgeois, found that the highest-performing companies have extremely contentious boards and regard dissent as an obligation, treating no subject as a taboo topic.

Roleplay

CEOs, along with other board members, should encourage members to play a variety of roles thereby giving them a wider perspective of the business. Viewing a scenario from a different perspective and developing alternative scenarios to evaluate strategic decisions not only broadens the number of possibilities and opportunities but also inhibits members developing a rigid point of view. Hence, members should be encouraged to play devil’s advocate, at other times delve into the details of the business and also be given the opportunity to act as the project manager. A case that demonstrates the impact this can have on a business was at Pepsico in 1997 when the board decided to sell the various components of its well-run restaurant group.

CEO Roger Enrico had previously turned around the unit which had been the brainchild of two of Enrico’s predecessors and must have had great pride in the division. Yet, he eventually convinced all that the restaurant unit should be sold and so that it could flourish freely beyond the controls of the parent company. It proved to be a brilliant idea.

Accountability

Ensuring accountability is probably one of the toughest challenges a CEO faces. In a survey conducted by the Yale School of Management and the Gallup Organisation, 25% of CEOs claimed that their board members did not appreciate the complexity of the businesses they oversaw. In recent history we have seen cases of individuals blaming others, proclaiming ignorance, Enron being a case in point.

Directors should take their duties seriously and encourage others to do the same, setting the tone for acceptable behaviour and performance.

Behaviour breeds behaviour and although the CEO and chairman of the board can assign tasks to get individuals fully engaged, peer pressure will play a major influencing factor in further enforcing positive behaviour.

Tasks can take on various formats and could involve collecting external data, meeting with customers, anonymously visiting plants and stores in the field and cultivating links to outside parties critical to the company. The exercise will then require members to impart knowledge and findings to the rest of the board and allows them to become better versed in strategic and operational issues the company faces.

GE’s board members for instance, dine with the company’s largest suppliers and distributors the night before the annual meeting while Home Depot’s board members are expected to visit at least eight stores outside their home state between board meetings.

Evaluate performance

Not giving feedback to a team is self-destructive as there can be no learning without feedback. Findings from a combination of research and surveys show that directors rate their board’s effectiveness significantly more positively at companies where individual members are evaluated. Although, when individuals are in an interdependent group such as on a board, it is better to conduct a formal evaluation on the performance of the overall group rather than its individual members.

One reason for this may be that, as it currently stands, board members are typically replaced for performance reasons only in extreme circumstances (e.g., criminal misconduct, conflict of interest, active disruption, very poor attendance/participation record) – and if they are replaced, they are rarely given an early warning and a chance to improve. In most cases, boards wait for under-performing directors to retire, a more reactive than proactive approach. Since the Board is in effect a high-level team, no matter how good it is, it is bound to get better if  there is an evaluation process in place.

A good first step in director evaluation is to have directors assess only themselves. After two or three years, a peer assessment can be introduced, with directors evaluating one another. A simple pass/fail along several dimensions will ensure that the process is not too time consuming. The evaluations can be handed over to a trusted board advisor, such as outside legal counsel, who summarises the findings and provides individuals with their results. A next step is for the assessments to be turned over to the committee charged with director nominations, so that under-performing directors can be identified and action taken. Overall, this is good way of identifying who is truly adding value to the organisation, as well as making performance expectations clear. In evaluating directors, ask yourself the following questions:

• Do they understand the company’s strategy and business?

• Do they keep up to date with issues and trends affecting the business?

• Are they willing to challenge management when necessary?

• Do they have special expertise that is important to the company?

• Do they have an appropriate level of involvement in CEO succession and assessment?

• Do they attend boardroom meetings and discussions?

• Are they readily available for committee meetings?

• Do they contribute to board and committee agendas?

• Are they well prepared for meetings and discussions?

• Do they actively participate and contribution to the committee and boardroom deliberations?

• Are they available outside meetings to advise management?

• Do they effectively inquire about major performance deficiencies?

Although there are guidelines in how to formulate a board, the attitude a CEO takes towards the board is key in the tone that is going to be set. If a board is to truly fulfill its purpose of monitoring performance, advising the CEO, and providing connections with a broader world, it must become a robust team. Its members need to be actively engaged in seeking the truth and challenge each other to broaden their perspectives and viewpoints. The CEO should work in collaboration with the Board and all its members as opposed to viewing it as an obstacle that needs to be managed. Adopting an approach of transparency, honesty and respect will go a long way to building and nurturing a strong team, and a robust and effective board.

3 SECRETS OF TOP TALENT

In any organisation these days, we come across a myriad of titles. But when one breaks it down, what are titles really all about? Do they help us in being better? It seems to me that sometimes, a title is a mask and stands in the way of us being our best.

For simplicity’s sake, imagine two people in an organisation, each responsible for their own area but ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of the organisation. And now imagine one of them is missing the ball on something.

I recently observed this and was fascinated by two hugely different outcomes when adopting two opposing outlooks. In the first instance, one of the colleagues was willing to allow the other to trip up. And yet, when she adopted the perspective of a fellow human as opposed to a colleague with a title, she took on an entirely different stance, one of collaboration, empathy and all hands on deck.

Somewhere along the line, we have created a belief system within organisations and ourselves that, in order to make it to the top, we have to be guarded, tough and use sharp elbows – for what end really I have no clue, since getting to the top in that manner would be very lonely indeed.

So, adopting this vein of thinking, one would like to believe that the people at the top are mean, ruthless and generally not very nice.

The good news is that this is not the case. In profiling some of the best talent from around the world, there were three elements that were consistently present amongst those who companies wanted to have as part of their team:

1. They are great human beings – possessing strength of character, commitment and integrity, they have a desire and ability to grow and guide people, working with and through others.

2. They love what they do – doing something which resonates with a deep part of who they are, something they are interested in, engaged with and committed to.

3. They all had a mentor in some way shape or form at some point in their life and/or career that imparted wisdom and guidance.

There are some positive shifts taking place, with a call to basic and traditional values of honour, integrity, respect, etc. A time when people want to treat others and be treated as human beings as opposed to numbers. Where, to bring out the best in others and ourselves, we must be true to who we are as human beings as opposed to hiding behind some title.

We are in a time when we can create positive changes in our ‘corporate’ experiences. An opportunity to instil a strong value set within our companies that resonate with and embody members of the organisation, enabling them to tap into who they truly are instead of resorting to titles for position and power. A time when companies live human values as opposed to a string of words and niceties that beef up a website or other corporate collateral. An opportunity to shape our organisations to create real value with every interaction and along the value chain.

It will be interesting to see the progress of our students, our future leaders, who are currently watching the debacle we are going through.  They are a key element since they will be demanding more from the companies they will be choosing to work for.  And if they don’t find the right value set, I hope they will have the courage, determination and network to create their own new cultures which will resonate far more deeply with the customers they will have set up to serve.

Headhunter turned talent spotter, Deborah creates the connect between people of character and companies with principles. The Founder of AMANI™, she is an advocate for business being a force for good, vested in the impact business has in both economic and social terms across various strata of society.

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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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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