Recently, I came across an article in Strategy & Business by Booz & Company called The Global Innovation 1000: Why Culture Is Key, which looks at how culture affects innovation and growth in companies.

The article starts by stating that:

“Booz & Company’s annual study shows that spending more on R&D won’t drive results. The most crucial factors are strategic alignment and a culture that supports innovation.”

The article goes onto to state:

“The elements that make up a truly innovative company are many: a focused innovation strategy, a winning overall business strategy, deep customer insight, great talent, and the right set of capabilities to achieve successful execution. More important than any of the individual elements, however, is the role played by corporate culture — the organization’s self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing — in tying them all together. Yet according to the results of this year’s Global Innovation 1000 study, only about half of all companies say their corporate culture robustly supports their innovation strategy. Moreover, about the same proportion say their innovation strategy is inadequately aligned with their overall corporate strategy.”

Broadly speaking, culture is a set of assumptions, beliefs, values, actions, behaviours, standards, practices and norms etc that govern and guide the way we interact with each other and with our customers and stakeholders outside of our businesses.

However, some may think that company culture is something just for larger companies. I would disagree. Notice how when you walk into a company, large or small, the way people greet you, the way they talk to each other, the atmosphere, the environment, the pride they take in their work?

That’s culture at work.

However, there’s a lot of talk about culture and, sometimes, like in life we must realise that there can be a marked difference between what people say their culture is and what they would like it to be and what it actually is.

Therefore, if you are struggling with issues around staff turnover, employee engagement, gaining new customers, dealing with customer service issues, customer retention etc then you could do much worse than having a critical look at how your company culture is helping or hindering your growth plans.

Where to start?

I would suggest that you start by conducting a cultural audit to understand the difference between what you say your culture is and what actually happens.

However, many cultural audits will focus on asking your people, your shareholders, your stakeholders and your customers what you stand for and what you aspire to. I think you should do this. But, what I would add to that is to also ask them to describe what you don’t stand for, what you are not as well as what is not acceptable.

Why? Well, determining what is not acceptable will allow you to establish your foundation conditions, your law & order if you like, within your organisation, whether it is 5 or 5,000 strong. Only then will you be able to build on this foundations to create something strong and sustainable that supports your business going forward.

As people, I believe, we like certainty and knowing what is right or wrong as much as possible. It seems to work in the way we run our societies so why not in the way we run our businesses?

How many companies do you know where they start by telling you, whether an employee, a shareholder, a stakeholder or a customer, what they don’t stand for or what they don’t find acceptable? Would an approach like this help deliver better customer relations and greater employee engagement by helping everyone know where they stand right from the off?

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