Culture – Collaborators – Clients – the 3 C’s that Spell Company

Everyone is currently talking about digital transformation, as this is indeed the next logical step forward, but one should not forget that every lasting construction needs good foundations without which it will not withstand storms or any other unexpected events. Taken in a corporate context, this means building on the existing structure, on the lessons learned, on the effectiveness of your teams and their past achievements in order to co-create the next steps. In doing so, some elements will be retained, some transformed, others replaced following analysis of needs in comparison with the current situation and expected future challenges, then it will be possible to start to define where the journey is leading. At the outset it will be difficult to maintain an overview of all the different elements, but this is where an existing strong corporate culture can make a vital contribution, particularly if teams are used to being innovative and adaptable. As with any change project, by explaining the why, teams will be inspired to strive for solutions to ensure the long-term sustainable future of the company and therefore their jobs.

The employee buy in

The past weeks have already shown that when necessary, many teams can rise to a challenge and achieve far more than even they had previously expected. Whereas before, some employees were content to accept slow progress in terms of the digitalisation of their workloads, perhaps partly due to fear that these changes might endanger their very existence, in the face of the current crisis they have adapted quickly, searched for proactive solutions and generally kept their companies afloat. This is the spirit which every company needs to face digitalisation and other changes with confidence. To quote Richard Branson “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” If your employees are confident about their future, because they know that the solutions you are working on relate to what the company’s clients need, they will promote this externally and in turn inspire confidence in the company. This is clearly the key: encourage a working culture which will nurture ideas until they flourish and in turn generate new ideas, a self-regenerating circle of creativity and innovation.

So what is a work culture?

What do we understand under work culture? Inevitably it is one of those terms, which can be interpreted in a vast variety of ways all of which are probably equally appropriate and inappropriate depending on the context, the sector of industry and many other factors. One thing is however true for all, a culture needs to be lived and living, it needs to be “allowed” to evolve organically, responding to the demands of specific situations, the chemistry of its internal and external members and even market forces. To return to the allegory of the well-built building, your culture needs to be equipped to withstand the strains of the elements, it must be adaptable and responsive. As Elizabeth Doty says[1] “In the end, the only values that matter are the ones we live every day. Acting with integrity as an organisation means continually working to integrate our aspirations into our behaviour, at scale, across geographies, and as things change. Gaps and contradictions are not exceptions; they are the core of the work. This is why a strong positive culture is such a sustainable advantage — and why it leads to such outsized rewards in terms of customer loyalty, brand credibility, employee engagement, strategic agility, and stakeholder trust.”

Start with why

The question is how to achieve this? This is where the interaction between collaborators and clients is so crucial, if they are not able to anticipate their needs, then how will they be able to innovate efficiently? The risk of becoming reactive is great, but then your competitors will have overtaken you and your clients lost confidence. Just as you must have the finger on the pulse of your teams, so they must take the same approach to their clients. In a culture of curiosity and interest, this is a prerequisite, perhaps even one of the most fundamental challenges: how can you keep apace of developments in such a rapidly changing environment? In his book “Start with why”[2], Simon Sinek says “Great leaders inspire everyone to take action … If most companies don’t know why their customers are customers, the odds are good that they don’t know why their employees are their employees either…. Then how do they know how to attract more employees and encourage loyalty among those they already have?”

Culture is about confidence, creativity, consciousness and perhaps also common sense; acting together towards a common goal for the benefit of all. Corporate values, CSR strategy and commercial goals all contribute to this, but ultimately it is the way they are interpreted which makes the difference – it is that famous extra mile undertaken happily, because someone has understood what is represents. Once your collaborators have understood this, you will have a sustainable and coherent corporate culture on which to base your future development. By creating role models, you will inspire your teams to follow, in modern day jargon, you need to “walk the talk” and thus create an environment in which making mistakes is seen as a means of improving and moving forward and where it is perfectly normal to assume responsibility and commit to high standards. In short, the sort of working culture everyone is happy to work in. This in turn will enhance your brand, your staff will reflect this positivity externally at clients, which will increase their confidence in what the company is capable of achieving. Definitely a win-win situation.

Defining milestones

The transformation or adaptation of a corporate culture cannot be completed overnight, it must be carefully planned taking short, medium and long-term objectives into account, so that all employees are able to keep pace with the changes and continue to identify with them. A short-term goal could, for example, be to poll your employees about their experiences of digital work processes to gather data about the positive and negative aspects. The results should then be published and pave the way for internal discussion about an official digital company policy providing clear guidelines in response to the questions raised. This preparation could take the form of a Miro board or internal workshops or even a Lego Serious Play workshop followed by the formulation of the guidelines and the implementation of any necessary internal training sessions thus completing the medium-term objective. As a long-term goal, the company could then assess the success of this policy over a 6-9-month period based on ongoing feedback, measurement of how successfully predefined deadlines have been achieved and also of the effect of continued remote working on overall team spirit and innovation levels. In this way, the company will be able to ensure that the working culture makes a smooth transition with neither negative implications on the way teams interact nor on levels of feeling of belonging. By taking the employees’ feedback into account, it should be possible to adapt the company culture to suit both employee hopes and management expectations, thus resulting in a more proactive working environment and increasingly engaged employees.

Your stakeholders matter

Why is corporate culture important for your clients? Nowadays no matter what a company has to offer, its clients need to be able to identify with it, of course the age of social media and multimedia offerings has enhanced this, but the trend was already firmly implanted before that all took off. Why else would a client be prepared to pay more for a certain brand than another without any real difference in quality? Why else are there brands one aspires to follow and others one would never admit to having been in contact with? The why of what is sold defines how the customers value the goods and services received.

Similarly, collaborators will be attracted to certain types of companies, which seem aligned to their personal values. A pacifist will never work for an arms producer no matter how high the potential salary, all employees want to proud of the place where they spend so many hours of their lives and this is expressed in what their contribution to the company constitutes. How often are we asked: where do you work… oh really what do they do? As soon as we become brand ambassadors for our companies, we reflect their culture and promote it externally. Of course, not everyone can necessarily land their dream job immediately, but they will aspire to it, thus compromising their loyalty to the company which does not fulfil these criteria. It may pay the bills, but it will never be seen as a long-term option and in these days of talent scarcity, every company has a vested interest in maintaining employee loyalty.

The overall corporate culture should comprise a set of lived values, as well as clearly expressed and shared expectations, in this case employees will not only continue to identify with it, but above all will share it outside the company, thus enhancing the employer’s brand and global reputation. In turn the company’s clients and suppliers will be encouraged to maintain positive relations with the company as a trusted partner, forging lasting partnerships and thus making a positive contribution to the company’s future and so the cycle continues to the benefit of all concerned. No sustainable corporate strategy can be based on static relationships, but dynamism can only be achieved if all partners are striving to fulfil the same goals.

A clear and coherent corporate culture should act both as a powerhouse to ensure continued forward movement and as a safe harbour in a storm: something to be relied upon and identified with.  To quote Tony Hsieh of Zappos “If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself”.

[1] Elizabeth Doty “Want to change corporate culture?” Focus on actions. 15.03.2020

[2] Simon Sinek “Start with why” first published 2009 by Penguin Group

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