Three decades ago when I made my first overseas shift, work place culture was almost an alien phenomenon. There were few global corporations and even fewer people who moved around the world to experience a clash of cultures for companies to seriously consider a systemic approach to create an organisational structure with a common vision or purpose.
For an Indian to land one fine morning in a mostly Chinese city and grapple not only with a new office and colleagues, but also with what was then an unfamiliar social structure and national culture, was difficult. There was a lot to learn, and time was short.
Days before I boarded the flight, I received two handbooks in mail from the human resources of the company sitting in a faraway country. One was on the history and culture of the country I was moving to. Another was on what all I needed to do when I landed in a new city and what I ought not do to remain safe!
Looking back, what did I then miss the most? It was the lack of an overall organisational and workplace culture that would have provided me the cushion in a new country and a common line of thinking for all employees to prepare me better for business challenges. There I was in a room filled with people from different nationalities with nothing really binding them for the larger cause of business.
Times have since changed.
Workplace culture reflects the company’s overall personality but essentially, it is the environment that surrounds us all the time. A positive culture drives productivity, efficiency, increases retention, promotes teamwork and helps promote an environment that encourages growth.
The kind of common culture we nurture in our company also has a key role to play in the success of business. Culture can sometimes be difficult to put into words, but it has to lend weight to positive results from the business activities of an organisation. And if it is not suitably structured and reaches to everybody down the line through regular communication, it can’t last and have the required impact.
Eventually, creating a culture is a people exercise since it’s the employees who drive an organisation’s success and future. Organisational culture, therefore, has to bind people with business objectives.
So, how do we understand the culture? A great place to start is to know the set of values the company is advocating, if at all there are values in place. If there are no values, it will be good start by putting them in place.
The next step would be to ask what the leadership and management teams are doing to drive them through the strategic directions and internal communications.
At APCO, core organisational culture is driven by four values – boldness, curiosity, empathy and inclusivity. Core values, as such, support the company’s vision, shape the overall work culture, and reflect the company’s personality. We encourage our colleagues through various internal communication tools to understand the set of values and then suitably recognize them for their efforts. However, the exercise should not stop at this. It is also necessary to continuously check whether the values are in agreement with the evolving business landscape and strategic direction the organisation wants and needs to move to keep with times.
If the values are in place, how does a company build a culture that can last?
- Drive values through effective communications: It is important to communicate effectively the clear organizational values and discussed with the colleagues so that they feel part of it. It is not enough to state this in the mission statement, brand story or in marketing and promotional material. It is crucial to provide thorough onboarding and demonstrate actions regularly so that the colleagues feel an individual responsibility towards these values.
- Foster collaboration and encourage supportiveness: When it comes to continuation of culture, collaboration is key. Bringing together people from different backgrounds, nationalities and communities and give them a common purpose always helps. Collaboration and support teams and colleagues in need foster meaningful working relationships. Regular communication across teams and colleagues also drive effective knowledge sharing, decision making, coordination, and, ultimately, performance.
- Keep up with changing times: The greatest challenge is the resistance to change. Breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things are changing how we design and deliver solutions to our clients. This movement is also spurring a deep revolution in how we are communicating internally to our colleagues whether it’s working from a different country or adopting an internal social media app to drive values. Change is inevitable but keeping up with the change is in our control. So, if the time demands for an even more positive and new way of driving a culture, do not fear it.
- Monitor, measure and evaluate: Open and honest communication means that regular audits are taken to evaluate how people are interacting with each other, feedback is welcomed and taken on board, and opportunities for social interaction are enabled. These can include formal setting or informal occasions such as team getaways and catch ups.
A positive workplace culture is one of greatest assets for a company. It should make people want to engage with and take pride in the organisation.
Eventually, the need is to create a team that thinks along lines that benefits business and provides direction to the employees. For an organisation’s success, we all need to read from the same page, without prejudice and without discrimination. An organisation that hunts as a team believing in its values is one that succeeds.
This article was written with input from Anusha Sharma, a consultant in APCO’s Mumbai office.