The impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world is mind blowing. It is hard to fathom. Industry has changed, and the way we do business is different.
Financial woes combined with a foggy vision has blurred our pathway forward. Operational matters are put under the microscope, even the basic question of where and when we work is up for debate. There are too many issues to focus on in one post. So, we will focus on one, corporate culture.
First, inside any organization are many cultures. Not just one. I have coached many CEO’s and senior leaders in business and government on the importance of culture.
Here is a case study of a global automobile manufacturer with a corporate culture challenge before the COVID-19 pandemic. The CEO wanted to ensure that the corporate culture within South Korea represented the corporate culture of the headquarters company located in Germany. At first it sounded simple, but it was not.
The assignment parameters were wide open, except for employee salaries. A compensation study had recently been conducted, so there was no need to repeat it.
At the conclusion of our project, we identified the number one obstacle to an ideal corporate culture environment. There were no company policies documented or followed across the company.
The entrepreneur CEO had forbidden policy creation in the company. He wanted no policies to stifle the entrepreneur spirit. However, due to their absence, his direct reports created and implemented their own guidelines, and each leaders’ guidelines were different. Instead of having a strong corporate culture, they had a culture that fired anyone that made a mistake, which encouraged employees to hide their mistakes. This encouraged mistrust, envy, and inequality. Basically, it was a corporate culture of chaos.
You may ask what does a good corporate culture look like? In a Harvard Business Review article, culture in an organization is described as:
“Culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.”
Good corporate cultures just don’t happen; they are systematically designed and developed. Here are a few ideas to consider in the development of a corporate culture.
Employees don’t work for the company; they work for an individual. The number one reason why people leave their jobs is they are unhappy with their boss. Build rapport with your team as they cover different jobs, responsibilities, with varying personality and leadership types. Pay attention to the growth of everyone. John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods said, “Most of the greatest companies in the world also have great purpose. Having a deeper, more transcendent purpose is highly energizing for all of the various interdependent stakeholders.”
The best leaders are effective listeners. Praise openly and correct privately. In Asia, it is customary to not “make them lose face.” Bob Iger, CEO of Disney said, “It is incredibly important to be open and accessible and treat people fairly and look them in the eye and tell them what is on your mind.”
Avoid the “CEO disease” of reigning from your pedestal and wanting to be seen as perfect. No one is. Lee Iacocca (former CEO of Chrysler) was accused of having this disease. He kept bringing out the same car models year after year. While this occurred the Japanese were rethinking how cars should look and operate and swept onto the scene. CEOs infected by this disease often look for short term gains at the expense of long-term growth. This type of leader is described as having a fixed mindset.
Developing a growth mindset is critical to facilitating the change required to shape the corporate culture. Change is a process, not an event. Leaders and managers with the growth mindset don’t just seek challenges, they actively search them out and feast on them. A survey by software firm Quantum Workplace found the share of ‘highly engaged’ employees rose 11% over the previous year during the pandemic.
Implement a learning agenda to educate and achieve your mission and goals. Building long-term capabilities with your culture are necessary for your workforce to stay competitive and successful in a world where technology is constantly changing. For example, Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their time each week learning new skills and developing their existing talents. Granting employees the time and space to learn will always generate positive returns for any company.
Think strategically to build a strong corporate culture that will be hard to destroy. Benchmark and identify the main goals for the business, prioritize and simplify. Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd’s of London said, “To protect themselves, businesses should spend time understanding what specific threats they may be exposed to and speak to experts who can help.”
Some employees don’t embrace the corporate culture. If left unchecked these employees could be become toxic and destructive to the organization. This can be corrected with education and communication. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos said, “Have fun. The game is a lot more enjoyable when you’re trying to do more than make money.”
What is the number one thing that you can do that would have the greatest impact on shaping the corporate culture? Just a reminder, good corporate cultures just don’t happen; they are systematically designed and developed.
Steven B. McKinney is the Founder and President of McKinney Consulting which was established in Seoul, South Korea in 2001. He has combined over 17 years of high-performance executive search and leadership consulting solutions to his multinational clients in the Industrial, Consumer Goods, Technology and other industries in Korea.
Prior to McKinney, he had 13 years of experience at Adidas International as Head of Footwear Product Development (Globally), Production Manager for Reebok International's largest manufacturing facility in the world situated in Korea and others. He has travelled to 25 countries.
He has served on non-profit boards such as the American Chamber of Commerce, Korea, the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation and is a Co-founder of the Korea Business Leaders Alliance.
He has a B.A. Education from Mars Hill University, Certified Master Coach from Behavioural Coaching Institute, Leadership Coaching Strategies Certificate from Harvard University and was bestowed Honorary Citizenship of Seoul in 2007.
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