Reflections on Organisational Culture…

“Culture to an organisation is what personality is to an individual

Organisational culture can appear to be one of those ‘fluffy’ terms we hear spoken about in the workplace, but which tends not be given as much ‘air time’ as ‘Business Development’, ‘Sales’, and ‘Financial Planning’, etc. I often hear business professionals say, ” I really need to focus on the ‘bread and butter’ at the moment, all that other ‘culture stuff’ frankly can wait

A bit like a dog, dizzied by running around in circles chasing its tail, we can at times tend to ignore that which really matters and which has long term consequences, in favour of chasing the immediate and short-lived. Organisational culture is like the rails upon which a train runs. Though ensuring the comfort of passengers is of immediate importance, of even greater importance is the regular maintenance of the rails to ensure the safe and continuous running of the train. Indeed, where there exists a slight relaxing in the focus on the safety of the rails themselves, the consequences can be catastrophic for passengers – as we already know from unfortunate experiences.

These are economically challenging times: Europe is in a deep financial crisis – and the impact on organisations in the UK particularly, in terms of redundancies and reduced staff investment, is widely acknowledged. It is of course a natural human reaction of leadership to consistently focus, sometimes unknowingly, on the ‘hard’ bottom-line organisational functions which directly influence how the Profit and Loss Corporate balance sheet ‘looks and feels‘. But “what about the people”, I ask?? It is equally important to remember during these times that just like the train that needs a safe track to run on, so too do organisations totally depend on their people to ensure they emerge from through these challenging times – unscathed. People, after all, are an organisation’s most cherished assets. Otherwise called ‘the Psychological Contract’, Leadership need to continually invest in instilling a sense of belonging, ownership and involvement in their staff, so as to ensure they keep up levels of creativity, performance and the competitive advantage – all of which derives directly from a solid, well-communicated, and internalised ‘organisational culture’.

A colleague once said to me: “Culture to an organisation is like what personality is to an individual”. Re-connecting with the ‘personality’ of an organisation – its vision, mission, values and beliefs, etc – with the precise aim of re-invigorating performance, is only done through connecting with the personality of the individuals in the organisation – their differences, their experiences, skills, backgrounds…their diversity. This process of ‘re-connecting’ with all staff and indeed their ‘whole personality’, re-establishes and cements the culture of the organisation as it links in with the ‘traits’ of individuals to create a competitive advantage – regardless of existing economic challenges.

Peter Jones, from ”The Dragon’s Den’ was in a documentary over the weekend called: “How we made our millions” on BBC2. A very interesting program – where hesimply sets out to investigate the ’personalities’ of successful entrepreneurs and the people they lead. The story of the growth and success of Innocent Smoothies Ltd, wasn’t just inspiring, but clearly showed what happens when a business invests in understanding the needs of its employees as part of its strategy for developing and promoting a culture of trust and innocence, a value key to the life-story of its founder, and intricately linked to its brand and competitive advantage. For Richard Reed, founder and CEO of Innocent Smoothies, the company’s mission to create a trusted drink – is what drives the culture of the business – its people, customers and by direct implication, its overall performance. And this mission was immediately clearly visible in the dedication Innocent Smoothies showed its staff in creating a ‘community of equals’ in the workplace which promoted trust as well as ensured each individual felt a strong sense of belonging and ownership of the brand. And the results are clear to see: Innocent presently has approximately £165 million turnover and is facing great expansion throughout Europe. But it is important to mention that for Richard, it is not financial reward that drives his business. It is alignment of the people to the mission of the business that drives it – financial reward is only a ‘natural’ derivative of it viewed in this sense…

There is a strong link, going back to the theories of Pascale (1984) and Weick (1987) which links organisational culture to organisational effectiveness. Both authors emphasise the positive impact a “strong culture” can have on effectiveness; arguing that a shared system of beliefs and values, which are widely understood by an organisation’s members, has a positive impact on their ability to be creative, improve performance and develop a competitive advantage. The fundamental concept here is that implicit control systems, based upon internalised values where shared attitudes and behaviours drive decision-making, is a more sustainable means of ensuring organisational effectiveness than knee-jerk ‘control systems’ that rely on ‘perceived’ values to engage their people. Indeed, the latter approach, a bit like the train running on unsafe tracks, can lead to catastrophic and irreparable consequences for an organisation.

I view ‘culture‘, that ’fluffy’ word often overlooked in organisations, as the door through which the competitive advantage is created, and sustained – particularly in the present culturally diverse and global business climate. Strategic mechanisms such as ‘business transformation‘ processes, ‘organisational change’ programs, and ‘strategy re-mapping’ exercises often used to improve organisational culture, should be designed and implemented with the precise motif of truly enabling organisations to re-discover their ‘personality’, their ‘mission’, their ’culture’ – as it interacts with challenging economic conditions

As ‘the DNA’ of culture, diversity is key to enabling the process of ‘re-discovery’ or ‘transformation’ through effectively engaging and maximising ‘people differences’ in alignment with the culture (and mission) of the organisation through which it creates and sustains its competitive advantage. In the BBC Show, Peter Jones acknowledged this fact in the ‘unorthodox’ approach Innocent Smoothies takes to managing its people – the CEO and staff go to the workplace in casual dress – shorts and slippers, hold meetings in luminously colourful rooms, and sit on swinging chairs suspended from the ceiling! “Odd“, I ask? “Different“, I suggest. But that’s what makes Innocent’s business model unique, competitive and successful – its personality, its mission, its culture…

What is your organisational culture???

Jude-Martin is Director of Diversity is…a consultancy focused on providing a fresh and innovative approach to diversity through the provision of services covering Strategy, Assessment, and Development for ensuring effective people management in the 21st century global business context.

For more information contact: or call 07738427180

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