THOUGHT LEADER: Why Culture Counts

Corporate culture is listed as key ingredient of success when times are good. It is rarely discussed during tough times as executives move to their managerial disciplines of strategy, planning and fiscal prudence. The reality is that your culture can be that secret ingredient that moves company aggressively into an area of opportunity. How the people respond in tough times could be the difference between single- and double-digit growth – this is the hidden asset of corporate culture returning on its investment.
For many CEOs, understanding and articulating what company is – and how its people come together with products or services to set it apart from competitors, is what corporate culture is all about. In some circles, the mere discussion of corporate culture is guaranteed to provoke an explosive reaction from those who doubt its very existence.
The debate really starts with perceptions. Culture is often seen as ‘soft’ or ‘touchy feely’. Whereas, in reality, it is one of the most challenging elements of managing any enterprise.
Why is this the case? It’s because talking about territories, product life cycles, sales targets, margins and marketing budgets is easy. They are ‘real’ and ‘tangible’. Culture deals with the less tangible aspects – things like attitudes and behaviours – all of which combine to create the corporate culture.
While most managers are familiar with the concept of corporate culture, many lack complete understanding of what it is, if there is one and how it operates. More­over, companies do not see how influential it can be in creating successful business and what role it can play in differentiating them from the mass of competition.
Business leaders often assume that their company’s vision, values, and strategic priorities are synonymous with their company’s culture. Too often, these may only be words hanging on plaque on the wall.
Culture shows up in both visible and invisible ways. Some manifestations of this “culture” are easy to observe but the more powerful aspects of culture are invisible. The cultural core is composed of the values in action, standards, paradigms, world views, moods, internal conversations, and private conversations of the people that are part of the group. This is the foundation for all actions and decisions within team, department, or organisation.
There is no standard corporate culture that fits every high-performing organisation. It is what ‘fits’ your business strategies and goals that matters.
Culture is extremely powerful. The rules of the game, what behaviour is ethical and accepted, the mood of the organisation, and the enthusiasm of employees are all contained in the culture.
When culture drives positive and value-creating behaviour, it can give company distinct competitive advantage. Not protected or nourished, it can be liability – timebomb waiting to go off. If your leadership team has not proactively created corporate culture to support the company’s purpose, then chances are that the culture is hidden liability.
For seven consecutive years, NetApp has been named by Fortune magazine as one of the 100 best companies to work for. In January 2009, it ranked number one on the list. This is the third consecutive year it has been named in the top 15. In Asia Pacific, it emerged as one of the top eight companies to work for in Australia in 2008, and one of the best tech companies to work for in India in 2007. We feel this is result of our commitment to creating and maintaining the values of what NetApp calls “model company”.
We have long been committed to building our corporate culture and sustaining it over the years. It is the foundation on which success has been built – success not just attributable to the amount of solutions sold but to the people behind them, those who come up with the innovative ideas, produce and deliver the products and those who help our customers expose the value promise.
NetApp corporate culture manifests in the ways our organisation conducts its business, treats its employees, and customers; the extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, the development of new ideas, and personal expression. The culture exposes the strength of employee commitment to our customers and shareholders.
Creating and sustaining healthy, vibrant culture requires reinforcement of the culture through daily and proactive conversations and communications. challenge for today’s global companies is to create strong, cohesive corporate culture that pulls all different geographical cultures together and ensures they can work as unified team. Our approach has always been to educate employees on the NetApp culture, yet be sensitive to the local cultures around the globe.
Sadly, most business leaders receive little to no education on how to generate culture – but this is long-term investment that will result in you attracting and retaining the best talent and loyal customers.

Simon Green is vice president and general manager of NetApp Asia Pacific.

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