Looking Under the Hood of Corporate Culture

corporate culture, ethics, society, businessCorporate culture has been coming up quite a lot lately in our #KaizenBiz conversations. When you look at ideas about leadership, marketing, strategy and other business ideas, culture is usually not far from the surface. There is a lot written about what a corporate culture ought to be like and how it should include social responsibility and foster positive human dynamics. For the most part, leaders want to see their organizations live out their most cherished values. Chick-Fil-A is often cited as an example of this as they close on Sundays. Toms Shoes is famous for its “one for one” model of buying their shoes, eyewear or apparel and helping someone in need. Zappos is another example where they hire for character and pay people who don’t fit their culture to leave.

Pixar’s lesson

There is a great book excerpt on the McKinsey and Company blog by Ed Catmull about how Pixar eventually developed a positive and creative culture. Catmull explains that he and John Lasseter consciously designed a culture that was respectful of everyone in the organization. By making themselves accessible and role modeling their expectations, they thought they had created a culture that mirrored their desire. Then they found that there was this huge rift between the production and creative departments. The people in the production department felt like second-class citizens and the people in the creative department felt micromanaged. Catmull’s lesson, he writes, was that “[b]eing on the lookout for problems, I realized, was not the same as seeing problems.”  Same culture, different experiences.

Just because it’s part of your business model…

Catmull and Lasseter set up a business model in which communicating with management was encouraged (or so they thought and report rectified). In an HBR post by Jim Dougherty, it is recommended that the business model and culture be seen as connected. In the way a company externally and internally communicates and behaves with one another reflects both the business model and culture. This makes culture more of a social construct. A group of people come together and form a mini-society. It might be a highly dysfunctional mini-society with backbiting and a hostile work environment but this is a social construct. There are rules, norms and ethics. As in, this is how we do things here. It is communicated overtly and subtly from the onboarding process all along an employee’s worklife with that company.Think of messages like “we hold information back, we take time to have fun playing foosball and drink beer, ask Jane because she knows where the skeletons are, we do anything and everything to satisfy a customer,” or ” we never talk to Them.”

Different lenses affects ethics

Aiming to be the best company is an admirable and understandable goal. I don’t think anyone founds a business and consciously chooses to make it a miserable, soul-sucking place. Some founders don’t think past “let’s get the work done” and set up an environment that later becomes unworkable and unlivable. For other leaders, hiring the best candidates may support a culture of excellence but it may leave other aspects unexamined. There is also the moment when a company has grown so large that it takes far more effort to communicate and exemplify the preferred culture. People may fill in the gaps with their own ethical code or create a separate code from the prevailing culture. As an example, it may be encouraged to meet a certain type of quota by a deadline. The way the quota is met can range from complying with the overall culture or it may deviate into a utilitarian sub-code. A company’s culture is often an expression of how the people in it view one another and the whole of humanity as well as the value of wealth and success. These various lenses become drivers in organizational decision-making

This is such a brief overview of corporate culture and brings up more questions than it answers. So many of us think we know what the perfect corporate culture looks like. The question is, is it the same idea for everyone? It may be that one leader of an organization goes around acting like some kind of chieftain while another leader may act as facilitator or collaborator. One employee might view it is the totality of a social life while another employee just wants to get the work done and go home. Corporate culture could very well be dynamic as an organization grows and people come and go.

What really makes up corporate culture? Is it a mini-society with complex relationships and mores? Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, May 9, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.

How relevant is the company culture to creating revenue?

How does corporate culture reflect society in general?

With so many competing agendas, how likely is it for companies to foster a common understanding of who they are internally?

What role do ethics play in the expression of corporate culture?

 

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Transparency Is More Than a Policy; It’s a Value

Transparency, value, businessIn the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, we often take a look at ideas that have become the idée du jour. Transparency has been gaining steam for the last couple of years due to the influence of social platforms.It is so easy for information to get out publicly about nearly everything and everyone. But transparency seems to be more than simply a way for a business or organization to appear ethical and engaging. There is a quality to it that makes it akin to a value, much like honesty or freedom. With this lens, it is deeper than a set of policies or even a practice.

Please join us Friday, January 17, at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz as we discuss “Goal Setting.” Not sure how to participate? Please click here for tips and advice.

Beyond good ethics

In a recent post on Entrepreneur.com, Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market is quoted as saying, “customers want transparency.” (Whole Foods Market is a grocery store that focuses on organic, sustainable and ethical food and health products). For a company like Whole Foods Market, transparency can be a selling point for customers. This goes beyond simply ethics as companies have to pay attention to revenue and profits. When a company appears consistent in its behavior and message, customers want to do business with it.

Support for being more than ethics

Transparency has to be more than being an open book. Customers want to know that their information is protected. In “Privacy in the Age of Transparency,” Jeffrey Rothfeder writes, “the companies that are open and honest in their communications, adopt privacy policies, and are very clear about how they use collected data discreetly to further corporate growth, efficiency, and performance will benefit from wider consumer acceptance in international markets. This…is what leads to increased revenue, less litigation from the aggrieved, enhanced reputations for their brands, and more prospective partners willing to enter into lucrative cooperative ventures that require a deep well of trust.”

But it isn’t just consumers who are wary…

In a 2013 study by Tiny Pulse, it was noted that employees are have higher happiness levels with greater levels of management transparency. This points to organizational culture requiring real adherence to the stated mission, values and management practices. This includes managers clearly stating expectations and duties of employees, there are abundant conversations about the company’s mission and values and even day to day interactions support the authenticity and commitment to transparency.

Combination of relationships with consumers and employees

The digital age has made it easier for people find all kinds of information. Glen Llopis writes that “We are all living during a time when people want and expect their leaders to be more human, less perfect and at times a bit vulnerable – regardless of hierarchy or rank.” This affects both the way a business conducts itself which, as you know, is actually people. Consumers and employees want their companies to be transparent. This requires the people of the company to not view transparency as a policy but as a way of being; the same way we live by our other values.

What do you think? Has transparency become a value? Join us Friday, January 17, 2014 on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT

What benefits do you see when a company embraces policy of transparency?

How does transparency get articulated as part of a value system?

Can “true transparency” ever be a realistic objective or are there acceptable limits?

When does transparency go too far for a business?

What types of behaviors demonstrate transparency?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth, executive coach, trainer and international expansion consultant, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding locally or internationally, Ability Success Growth guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.

 

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