Who Needs Corporate Culture?

A thriving corporate culture. It’s the thing that businesses say they want but really don’t know how to achieve. They hold people accountable for corporate culture – usually HR or manager – but it’s rare that we see an established organization actually shift their culture for the better.

An article in the April 2016 Harvard Business Review invigorated my thinking about this paradox. The article, “Culture is Not the Culprit,” states that “culture change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place to tackle tough business challenges like reworking an outdated strategy or business model.” (p. 98) The article challenges us as business men and women to stop trying to fix culture and instead look at the programs we have in place in our organizations.

Culture is a big deal. A strong culture is key to reducing turnover, elevating productivity, and accelerating profitability. A strong culture is also a requirement for attracting and retaining high-potential employees – you know, those men and women who really are passionate and incredibly skilled at what they do. These “hi-po’s” are attracted to an environment where their ideas are heard and considered, where their hard work and acquired expertise is valued, and where they can make a difference – in short, an innovative culture. With today’s dizzying speed of business, we can’t have a strong culture by doing what we’ve always done.

Established organizations (when I say established, I mean that they’ve been in existence for 10 years or so) often fall into the trap of “this has worked for us in the past so let’s keep doing it this way.” The thing is, there have been radical changes in the way business is run over the past 10 years. Ten years ago, there was virtually no social media for businesses (no YouTube, Twitter, or Pinterest), smart phones were just creeping their way into the marketplace (Apple introduced the first iPhone in January 2007), and Skype, although released in 2003, was not yet fashionable or eloquent – forcing us to actually travel to other locations in order to conduct a visual business meeting. The world now is much faster, more immediate, and rapidly paced. So if a company is doing business the same way it was in 2005, they will soon be packing up their camera-less desktop computers and their fax machines and locking up their brick-and-mortar doors.

I’ve seen this happen to a small business. Despite the pleadings of several intelligent marketing professionals, senior management did not believe that they needed to spend their time and effort in social media. Over a period of about two years, they were able to eke out a small profit, but only because they lost nearly 1/3 of their employees (including the aforementioned marketing professionals… hmmm…). They now have a skeleton staff who are overworked and miserable in their jobs, because senior management’s lack of listening didn’t stop at the marketing department – it filtered all the way through the organization. That’s not to say that their painful existence is all because of their lack of grabbing on to social media; but it is one example of how that company’s management failed to embrace new ways of doing things, and it negatively affected their culture. So just how effective and productive do you think their employees are in their jobs?

Senior management must be willing to explore new opportunities and new processes and new programs. They must listen to their employees and value their input to glean these ideas. They must be open to evolving their business. Only then will they be able to make a positive impact on their company culture.

Jennifer Currence, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Strategy Advisor who is passionate about partnering with companies to optimize their corporate culture. Learn more at www.OnCoreMgt.com.

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