How To Change Your Corporate Culture So Your Profits Increase

Do you think you need to change your corporate culture?  If nothing is wrong, you may not think you need to change.  But just because nothing seems wrong, it doesn’t mean a change is not necessary.

Some time ago I worked with a company of about 300 employees who were spread across a number of different sites.

The Company had grown from a family owned and run small business and had built up a reputation for quality and innovation.  Sadly, to a certain extent, they were still relying on their good name and the culture had slipped in to one where people were just jogging along.  There was no innovation and productivity was getting lower.   Nothing was particularly wrong, but there was a general air of boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

Additionally, there were petty squabbles among staff and people were quick to raise a grievance.  The rate of sickness absence increased for minor ailments.

Taking Action

The Board of Directors decided to combine the work done at the various sites.  Consequently they would move everybody to one site.  This was intended to decrease the overheads.  Additionally, productivity might be increased by bringing everyone under one roof.  Such was the thinking.

I was brought in to facilitate the site moves. I soon realised that these moves, in themselves, would not solve the productivity problem.  In fact, initially, things were likely to get worse.  Rebuilding teams from people who had worked in separate physical sites was a challenge.  Particularly as each site had its own, slightly different, culture.

Deciding to change your corporate culture

If you think you might need to change your corporate culture, then where do you start?

For us, the first step was for the Board to recognise that a change was needed. They could see that the different site managers had each had a different approach.  This had led to a stricter, slightly stifled regime at one site, whilst a couple of others had become lax and mistakes were creeping in.   The first need was to establish what the desired culture should look like.  Then we had to build a roadmap of how to achieve that, with milestones along the way.

Collaborating with employees

If you want to change your corporate culture, it is really important to talk to the employees.

We wanted to know what worked and what did not (and why).   The organisation was unionised and we worked with the Trade Unions.  But additionally, at each site, we set up a working group of volunteers to plan the site moves.  We sent out a survey, to be completed anonymously.  This was to gauge what worked and what did not.  We also used the Trade Unions to speak to their members and line managers to speak to their teams.

One critical factor was to communicate the plans and proposals.  We also provided some training on managing change.  Where individuals had specific concerns and issues, we held individual consultation meetings.  Along with practical issues about the move, we also communicated our desire to build a new, collaborative, culture.  We asked employees to work with us to outline our future direction.  Their suggestions contributed largely to our plans.

Accepting casualties

We found that not every employee shared our vision of collaboration and engagement.  Some decided that they did not want to move sites; some decided that they did not like the new “feel” to the Company.  We provided training and support, where applicable, to help people to adjust, but we also accepted that some would never settle and agreed to an amicable parting.

There were also a number of people who were content to continue jogging along at their steady pace.  They were doing a good job, but not an excellent one.  They were not disengaged from the Company, but were not actively engaged either.  We approached this by giving every opportunity for them to voice their opinions, give their ideas, get involved.

For many, we accepted that “a good job” was good enough and that these were the backbone of the company. We trained our line managers in spotting signs of disengagement.  We gave them the tools to engage with their teams.

For the minority of high-achievers, who were full of innovation and enthusiasm, we had given a chance to shine.   We subsequently found that the number of these high-achievers increased.

Walking the walk

The first step in this change had been to engage with the top team.  This continued to be an important step and is an ongoing need.  The team at the very top of a company needs to be the example they want to set.  The adage “be the change you want to see” is critical in business.

Whether or not it is a conscious decision, employees will always take their lead from managers. If your employees see you working long hours, they will do so too.  They will assume that is what you want from them.

If you fail to take a break, or if you send emails late at night, then that is also what your employees will do.  If you go into work even when you are obviously sick, then your employees will drag themselves in as well – and pass their germs to all and sundry.

Getting it right leads to other benefits

When we are shopping, we want to buy from responsible producers and suppliers. We want to feel comfortable with their ethos and approach.  In the same way,  employees want to work for companies which have a culture which they can fit into.  If you have a good reputation as an employer, then you will find that recruitment is easier for you.  You will be able to retain good employees.  You will have a lower rate of sickness absence.  It is likely that you will have fewer performance issues.  This will also have a positive effect on your marketing and will appeal to customers.

So you might want to change your corporate culture, even if you don’t think it is bad.

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Strategies To Create A Positive Organisational Culture

As business owners, we all like to think that we have a  positive organisational culture.  Ideally, we want the  people who work for us to be happy and see the organisation as positive and supportive.

If our employees work well together and collaborate with each other, we will see increased profitability and growth.

In previous articles, I have talked about sharing your vision so that everyone is working towards the same goal and can understand their own part in that journey.  Where people are trusted and appreciated, they have the impetus and the freedom to be innovative and creative.

Avoiding blame

Where communications are clear and leadership is strong and collaborative, then the climate is right for people to develop and grow.

So how can a blame culture creep into our organisation?   However much we work on sharing our vision and values and communicating our goals, organisational culture is defined by the people who work for us and their interactions with each other.

It is critical, therefore, that we learn to recognise the signs of a less than positive organisational culture and that we act to change the direction before there is a downward spiral.

Benefits of a positive organisational culture

Harvard Business School professors John Kotter and James Heskett did some research in the 1990s over a 10 year period.  Their findings showed that positive organisational cultures were linked to financial growth (a four fold increase).

A positive culture aids recruitment and retention of employees .  It can have an impact on customer service and it gives public credibility to your business.

Reviewing the situation

You may think your company culture is positive, but it is always helpful to review the situation.  Even if your employees are happy and motivated, you may find underlying trends which are less than positive.  If there is no conflict at all in your business, that could be a warning sign.  This can indicate complacency or a lack of confidence in suggesting a change to the status quo.  If you have a lack of diversity in your workplace,  you might find this will lead to stagnation.

On the other end of the scale, what happens when people cannot work well together?  This can lead to bad decision-making, loss of confidence, financial loss – even public embarrassment (remember the recent Ted Baker scandal?).

Warning signs

Many business problems are down to people issues.  You may be concerned about financial slowdown,  governance and legislative difficulties or other business-related difficulties.  But when you drill down into these, they are often rooted in difficulties with employees.

If you struggle to get new products to market, the fault may not be the organisational processes.  There might be a human aversion to risk which is at the bottom of the problem.  If you are finding it difficult to comply with governance or legislative imperatives, have a second look at your employees.  There is likely to be a problem with decision-making, ownership or understanding.

You may be proud of the fact that you collaborate with your employees, and allow them to collaborate with each other.  But have you given any thought to your consultation processes?  The real problem might be that people are spending hours of their time in large, unwieldy and unproductive meetings.

Alternatively, you may be very clear that you do not have a culture of blame in your organisation.  But have you listened to what people are saying to each other?  There might be implied criticism, even where it is not explicit. This can have a really detrimental impact on the confidence and abilities of the person on the receiving end – especially where there is a difference in position within the company.

Putting it Right

It is a fact that most of the problems in business are “people problems”.   We all have our own ways of doing things, our own unpredictability.  We are complex and we are all different.  This can make it difficult to resolve problems, but where you are able to create a positive organisational culture, you will reap the rewards.

The key to successfully changing your organisational culture is based on the same principles I have been writing about recently.  If you can engage with your employees, you will be well on the way to a positive culture.

As a reminder, those principles are:

Have a strong vision which you share with your employees and they can understand their part in helping to achieve the vision;

Give your employees a voice, so they can be confident in giving opinions and making suggestions in a blame-free culture, where they know they will be heard.

Show appreciation  of your employees and recognise their skills and achievements, so they are encouraged to give their utmost.

Build an environment of trust and integrity as a two-way street so that your employees feel confident in your leadership.

Achieving a positive organisational culture

The dictionary definition of culture is as follows: the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.  In business – your business – culture is based on your values and behaviours.  When those align with your business strategy, then your employees will be engaged and your customers will be happy to buy.

A positive organisational culture allows each person to take responsibility for their own work, their own achievements and successes, their own mistakes.  It allows others to recognise that we all do things differently and the only “right way” to do something is the way that works for the individual and the organisation.  Where people make mistakes (as we all do), there is no blame.

So it is in your hands to create a positive culture within your business and to ensure that it stays that way.   If you can achieve that, then you will find it easier to deal with those business problems and difficulties and you will achieve productivity and growth.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.