Business

Aligning your organisation’s culture for results

By Chrishan de Mel

Earlier this year, I shared some thoughts on whether an organisation’s culture can be preserved during the pandemic. Despite all that technology can do to make our work from home (WFH) experiences more engaging, it is a poor substitute for being physically back at work. In that light, it is crucial to be able to identify and inculcate the values that are strategically most important to your business. An organisation culture that consistently produces behaviour in alignment with your strategic objectives will give your business a competitive edge.

Culture and values are birthed at multiple levels. The national culture of a country provides a set of values or behaviours that we subconsciously absorb during the early years of life through our families, religious backgrounds, and community. As we grow older, throughout our adolescence, aspects such as education, influences of mentors, and exposure to other cultures also make their mark on our values and behaviour. Once you complete your education and enter the workforce, you are invited to share in your employer’s values and culture code. These are assumptions subconsciously held by employees, and considered as important values, beliefs, and accepted norms of behaviour, determining the organisation’s culture. For example, if punctuality was never your strength, being employed in an industry that places a premium on engaging virtually across time zones to drive results will compel you to adjust your behaviour. The premise is that when organisation cultures align, there is less friction in relationships and collaboration becomes easier, even if the companies are geographically separate.

I had the opportunity to participate in an experiment to compare how our organisation culture aligns with the culture of our target market – Norway. The assessment platform Culture Intelligence (www.cultureintelligence.io), which measures aspects of culture across 100 distinct values, visualises alignment against an aspired culture, and proposes actions for personal reflection and change, served as the tool of measurement. These values are grouped in a culture map that spans across broader themes such as achievement, sense of belonging, visioning, synergy, and collaboration, among others. The Norwegian culture code on the platform was derived using responses from over 5,500 predominantly mid to senior level employees in Norway and Sweden. Around 50 responses were collected in Sri Lanka for this pilot programme.

Evaluating the results, aspects such as passion, self-development and quality came out on top. These were complemented by attributes such as work-life balance, openness, synergy, and trust. In the current WFH context, employees are more concerned about staying fit and being more active, which was also identified in the results. In this article, I will focus on two aspects that had gaps, which could be linked to the organisation culture and the Sri Lankan national culture. While these are initial observations, they do provide areas for improvement, both as individuals and as an industry of knowledge workers.

Essential elements of an organisation’s culture

One aspect identified was courage, defined as “demonstrating confidence and overcoming one’s fears and limitations and continuing to pursue the objective” in the culture code. Words like bravery, valour, and boldness are synonyms for courage, while fear, timidity, hesitancy, are opposites. In a work setting, this can manifest as a lack of taking initiative due to fear of failure, or in the hesitation to convey bad news to avoid a difficult conversation. However, in any business and especially in highly collaborative industries like knowledge services, taking initiative and keeping customers informed on potential risks and issues is crucial.

Personal reflection is one way to assess this trait and identify areas for self-development. First, explore areas where you do believe you demonstrate courage, take initiative, and are bold. How does that make you feel? Then identify areas where you can be more courageous. You can look at appointments or issues you keep postponing, or situations that create fear or anxiety as clues to identify these areas. Another approach is to identify some role models who exemplify courage and boldness and learn from their example. While many courageous individuals come to mind, I’m reminded of former SLASSCOM Chairman Ruwindhu Peiris, who challenged the ICT industry in 2017 to: “Be loud and be bold! Be fearless in setting audacious goals for growth”. Looking back almost five years later, I believe as an industry we have done that. Start small, and identify one area that you are willing to deal with more courageously in the days ahead. 

Another aspect identified was empowerment, defined as “providing people with a level of direction, freedom and support, enabling delegation”. In a work setting, empowerment connects with areas of leadership such as goal clarity, delegation, inspiring your employees, and team development. In contrast, the reluctance to delegate, or poorly communicating areas of ownership, or micro-management, can make your employees feel less empowered and unmotivated. 

Within the national culture, there is a tendency to “cling on” to tasks or authority, with a view that more responsibility equates to importance. As a result, there is a reluctance to delegate responsibility. I’m glad that this works quite differently in the IT industry where the abundance of opportunities encourages empowerment and delegation. I recollect the challenge given by the Country Head of one of my previous employers when the company was experiencing strong growth. He challenged every leader to “Work themselves out of a job”, i.e., to identify and empower a replacement for their current role. For those successful in “losing their job”, the promise was a new role or promotion in the company. Not a bad deal at all!

As there are many resources on the internet on empowerment and delegation, I will touch on a few essentials as points of improvement. How clear and well communicated are your company’s goals, and does your team see its role in that broader purpose? Are you clear on your own role and authority available? Identify tasks that can be done by others, allowing for exposure and learning. Reflect on the time you could potentially save because of empowering others. 

Courage and empowerment are two important aspects of an organisation’s culture. It is important that these values are developed and reinforced as they impact every aspect of an organisation, including strategy, business development, high-trust customer relationships, and a nurturing environment for employees. If your organisation culture is aligned to your business, the results will follow in time.   

(The writer is the Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer at 99x and spearheads marketing activities while supporting business development and customer success initiatives. He is an accomplished practitioner with over 25 years of experience in the tech industry, with complementary roles in programme management and corporate consulting. Before joining 99x, he was the Executive Director of SLASSCOM. His industry experience includes banking and financial services and global IT services with Virtusa, Societe Generale [SOCGEN], Nations Trust Bank, and Union Bank of Colombo)