PEOPLE People & Organisations – The search for understanding

Participants included Neil Livingstone (managing director, Colenso BBDO); Sue Matson (HR director, Flight Centre); Sonja Lowe (consultant, strategic change leadership, currently at NGC, formerly an executive with IBM New Zealand); Neil McGregor (consultant, Human Synergistics, formerly in the HR team at DB Breweries) and Neil Porteous (HR director, Vodafone).

1 Culture and performance: does culture deliver on the bottom line?

Absolutely – but in conjunction with sound strategy. In isolation, good culture will positively impact an average strategy, but not even culture can overcome poor strategic decision making. Independent studies have shown the impact culture has on business key result indicators. Kotter and Heskett study in 1992 found that adaptive cultures increased their revenue by 682 percent (compared with defensive cultures of 166 percent); expanded their workforce by 282 percent (compared with 36 percent); had 901 percent growth in their stock prices (compared with 74 percent), and had 756 percent increase in net income (as against one percent). At the individual level outcomes include satisfaction, motivation, intention to stay, stress and role clarity. Employees who rate these aspects of their job highly will perform to higher level – and if great culture is combined with sound strategy, the organisation will perform. McGregor

Culture definitely delivers on the bottom line. Culture change is business issue. company culture will form regardless of any leadership intervention. This culture may or may not be supportive of company goals.
Leadership actions can be taken to “create an environment” which is most likely to motivate employees to work and behave in ways that support the attainment of strategic and business goals, therefore impacting on the bottom line. [It is important to] pay attention to the needs and desires of employees in the workplace by providing opportunities for learning, personal and professional growth through empowerment and flexible hours. Small things can often have huge impacts on the amount of discretionary effort employees will be willing to put in, and on their attitude to work and to the company. Lowe

Culture certainly delivers on the bottom line. In our business there is lot of personal empowerment. Creating the right culture sets the performance levels that we want out of our people. Creating culture where they can thrive and feel as though they are running their own race means that we get performance, great work, and great account service that leads to good healthy bottom line. If you haven’t got the culture – especially in an environment where you have lot of highly paid creative people – the business will probably fail. However, advertising agencies are unique because we don’t have huge hierarchical structure, so I am not sure that lot of things that we apply would necessarily work as well in other companies. Livingstone

Absolutely. Culture is defined by the people in the organisation. People deliver to customers and customers drive the bottom line. Porteous
Absolutely. Quantifying that is often difficult, however. If you have all your people moving in the same direction, at the same pace and wanting to achieve the same goal with high level of passion and excitement, it will definitely deliver profit. If you help people to see their future within your organisation and feel excited about it, they will help you create that future. Matson

2 Culture: Does one size fit all? How does one have culture development be successful?

Culture is often described as “the way we do things around here”. It is largely built around values – and values can be lived in many different ways. Culture should not inhibit personal approach but should encourage it. As an example, self-actualised people (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) are comfortable within themselves, non-defensive, and independent thinkers who can be extremely creative. While cultures may look different, values tend to be
similar – but not necessarily one size. McGregor

One size does not fit all. Doing culture surveys does not impact company performance: especially if the results are thought of and dealt with as an HR responsibility. There has to be determined effort to ensure culture aligns to company strategies and to build plan that will include actions and changes across systems, processes, communications and HR programmes. But it will only work if senior leadership understand it, buy in and walk the talk. Just as with employee satisfaction surveys, if HR is seen as the owner [of cultural initiative], it will become another HR programme and not business issue. Lowe

Culture has lot to do with leadership. Management certainly sets the culture which is in management’s heart, in their head and it’s how they want to run their organisation. It’s the feeling and behavioural skills of management that filter down. Cultural development goes from the top down. It takes really strong behavioural skills, people that can motivate other people and people who respect the management to lead it and follow. Leadership is all inspirational. It’s about creating that empowerment, giving people space and letting them get on with their job. Livingstone

A company’s culture needs to be reflection of what is required to deliver both the rational and emotional needs of the customers, so it is heavily dependent on the type of business and the brand – one size does not fit all. For culture development to be successful, organisations need to get people on board who fit the underlying values of the organisation and then let them do their thing. Porteous

The culture of an organisation is all about the people within and the atmosphere and direction they create, so developing successful culture has to involve staff in all levels of the business. If those people are dynamic and feel they have ownership in the running and decision-making processes in the organisation, culture can grow. Matson

3 Employment branding: how do you attract capable people in shrinking market?

This is an interesting issue. The term branding almost indicates product and we know how marketing teams create myths and legends around products. Employment branding is internally driven – it is product of the reality of an organisation – not myth.
The values in which I believe are those that reflect behavioural attitudes. You’ll often see customer focus, business growth and sound leadership described as values, which they are not – depending on their context they’re strategies or goals. They’re outcomes of thinking and doing other things well. Values drive the way people think [which in turn] drives the way they behave. Values should reflect constructive way of thinking – achievement for self satisfaction, being allowed to be yourself, encouraging and supporting others and being cooperative and friendly.
While some self-promotion is expected, best employers spend their time focusing on actually doing it – they focus inside the business – word gets out – potential employees find out. That’s employment branding you can’t buy. McGregor

A close second after being successful is “earned” reputation as good employer. Companies that balance the needs of their people as well as company requirements will be the winners. Companies that can create culture of joint ownership and shared responsibility where employees are supported to do good job, look forward to going to work and feel valued, are likely to keep their staff as well as attract the best people. Leaders are going to have to get better at managing poor performance, particularly in the management ranks. In my experience, allowing poor performance to continue is big de-motivator for good performers. Poor leaders will drive employees away. And let’s not forget about plain old management. It’s different skill to leadership and it’s vital. Lowe

It’s all about your brand and how people perceive it. It’s the old din

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