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The big corporate culture challenge

There is no one size fits all approach for getting corporate culture right, not least because it will be truly unique to each organisation. That said, there are ways to tackle it head on.
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At RPM, we don’t manufacture anything, we create campaigns. Therefore, as a talent business our people are everything, arguably our only asset. As a result, we believe there is a strong correlation between corporate culture and successful business performance – so rounded up some nuggets of advice.

Business values and behaviours

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Many companies have “nice -sounding” and “worthy” value statements, but sadly all too often there is a huge disconnect between the actual company values, illustrated by who gets rewarded or not, and the “nice-sounding” values. The actual company values are the behaviours and skills ingrained in the business and valued by fellow employees. These are a key element of your corporate culture.

Unwritten rules

As your business or team grows, these unwritten rules can be very deep-rooted and either highly unproductive or hugely successful. You need to identify which is which and validate or eradicate them accordingly.

We’ve taken steps to migrate from values to behaviours, as they feel more progressive and task-orientated. Taking this approach enables you to continually assess performance in a very tangible manner. Ours relate to a variety of core themes, touching on everything from bravery to intelligence, supportiveness to diversity. They help bring our corporate culture to life in terms of how we run our teams and develop our people.

Business belief and purpose

We like to think actions speak louder in everything we do. This focuses on the idea that you are defined by what you do and not what you say. If you like, the proof points of your business. These should be reflected in all aspects of your organisation. That said, what really gets your employees and team members out of bed in the morning and racing to their desks is more likely to be your purpose. So it’s important to know your purpose and communicate it effectively to your staff.

These days, for many people, their employer’s purpose has replaced more traditional belief systems, in terms of what impacts most on their lives day to day. During his hugely successful tenure at Unilever, Paul Polman encouraged employees to “work to create a better future every day, with brands and services that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life”. It’s easy to see what the impact of this type of motivational culture might be.

Leadership

Creating the right corporate culture really starts with an organisation’s leadership. No one within your team or indeed broader stakeholders should be surprised by your views or actions. When they are, the largely negative impact that can ensue is well-documented. To prevent this, transparency around decision making from the very top of the organisation, which, admittedly, does require significant investment in time, will also pay huge dividends.

Authenticity, accessibility and visibility are also fundamental. Simple tactics, like embracing an open-door policy and instigating frequent moves around the office, will give you a great sense of the operational challenges of the business. Staff should be encouraged to approach each other directly, regardless of level. This ability to ask questions, raise concerns and share opinions will positively impact on any type of business culture.

The principle of honesty always

Be honest with each other. Have difficult conversations and move on. All too often in our daily lives we are “blagging it”. But it is far better to be openly brilliant or truly rubbish, than to be grey and ok. That requires bravery and honesty from everyone, all the time. Honesty really is the best policy.

Some of the behaviours I’ve outlined above are applicable to anyone and any type of organisation, others are not. But the right way to look at these things has always been universal. Getting your business culture right is really about understanding who you are as an organisation and putting into place methods that ensure the culture you’re aiming for truly is part of your everyday reality. It’s a challenge worth rising to.

Hugh Robertson is founder and CEO of RPM

Image: Shutterstock

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