The Curious Case of Corporate Culture

We have struggled with the notion of corporate culture for quite some time. It exists and it can be a driving force in organizations. How do you define corporate culture? How do you know it is good or bad? People have this insatiable desire to draw a box around stuff, to define things in terms that we can easily say to our buddies on the street, to tell our friends at corporate Christmas parties or at hockey games.

We can’t publish some corporate rhetoric that has been talked about for a year, massaged and rewritten numerous times to make sure the wording is just right and call that “culture.”  We can’t magically create an innovation culture nor can we just copy another’s corporate culture. It is the unconscious mind, the things we do without even knowing it, the things that employees just do through their decision making processes daily, that define our culture.

How many times have we seen organizations bring in Foosball tables, table tennis tournaments or open pod workstations and proceed to call that an innovative culture? The whole notion is ridiculous. Culture isn’t something you can just make pretty or treat as some feel good investment. Companies create tag lines and some fancy corporate videos and somehow that is supposed to define their culture. The fact is, culture deals with the feelings of human beings and thoughts that quite often are irrational and emotional. These are things many corporate leaders are simply just not good at dealing with. So they look elsewhere to try to “make culture happen.”

So now you ask, hasn’t Scovan done all these things? The answer is yes, but certainly not to try to create some new corporate culture. The culture already existed. It exists in the way we work with each other and clients to find solutions, in the way we support each other when our families aren’t doing well, and how we celebrate accomplishments. It shows when we express differing views, when we challenge each other to answer why we are doing something, when we constantly engage the curious mind. It shows in our engagement at work. Engagement is an outcome, not an objective, of a culture that is firing on all cylinders. Employees bring their passion, curiosity and energy to work each and every day. Culture is in synch.

When you ask your fellow co-worker if they enjoy their job or the company they work for, what do they say? Chances are they will end up describing the very things that define their corporate culture. “It’s OK, I’m just always frustrated because…” or “It’s great, we have such meaningful discussions during our team meetings!” Even the simple use of the word “I” versus “we” says a lot about an organization. Is it just a group of individuals who are in it for themselves or is it a group of individuals that actually work together to create and maintain the kind of company they want? What would you tell others about the company you work for? It may be very telling.

Our team landed on 5 distinct areas that we felt defined, in large part, the underlying values that thread through everything we do. They are:

Engaged – the emotional commitment employees have for their organization

Quality – seeking excellence as a standard

Innovative – introducing new ideas and originality in thinking

Teamwork – the combined activities of a group, particularly when effective and efficient

Efficient – achieving maximum productivity with minimum expense

It was actually quite easy to define these values because they already existed as part of our culture. When we discussed these elements as a group, no one had much to change or add. All of these elements were already at the very core of what we do. Employees need to feel that they are serving a bigger purpose than just their company and this was apparent here.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve talked about hiring the right people. So many leaders believe in having a scripted set of questions to draw out the answers they are seeking. If a box can’t be checked on their list, they move on. The evaluation is one where the number of right or wrong answers are tallied. The very things that get so quickly dismissed are the very items that we ask more about. Why did a candidate say what they did? Was it a genuine response or one that was regurgitated out of a textbook? Did the candidate show their critical thinking skills? Did they demonstrate through their answers the values we share? So often we’ve said that outside of a basic set of skills for the position we are hiring for, it is the right individual character we so desperately seek. The rest can be trained.

“Determine what behaviours and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviours and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.”

~Brittany Forsyth

Please don’t ask me how we define our corporate culture. Instead, ask me how I know it exists, what it means to me, and excuse me if I get a little passionate about it.

 

 

Written by Kevin Van Vliet, B.Comm., CPHR

Originally published on LinkedIn on December 20, 2017