Walk into any corporate office, and you are likely to see company values, vision and other mission statements plastered across window panels and on walls. While this is indeed a common sight but one does wonder ‘how does one actually live up to company values?’ How often can employees claim to be actual cultural ambassadors?
While employer branding initiatives strengthen organizational culture, vision statements that explain the purpose of an organizations’ existence often get translated into smaller actionables that each individual eventually aligns themselves to. Propositioned with a business plan and backed by immense data, they become our pathways – meant to be a way of living for every individual employee. All we need to do is to follow the plan. But then, can we?
Peter Drucker once said that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. If you look at it, most company level Initiatives fail because what starts as a noble intention, eventually gets lost in a deadly Bermuda triangle thanks to office politics and the dearth of consistent communication and ownership.
Breaking the silos
‘The ostrich outlook’ can be held responsible for all things that go sour. We’d like it to be so! It’s the inability to look beyond the obvious while making a decision and in case of work life, decisions that hamper professional growth. ‘My way is the best way’ - an approach that has led to the downfall of many great aspirational leaders is also another reason. When organizations invest in leaders, the intent is to propagate a sound example and leave behind legacies of milestones accomplished. But this is seldom possible if you don’t take people along.
In 2013, Berlin-based Transparency International’s facilitated a survey of ‘Transparency in Corporate Reporting’, where companies from India led the list with a score of 7.1.
What does this say about us? Well, how about the simple conclusion that organizational culture is all about ‘communicating right and being transparent’? Explaining something to the new or existing employee is really like teaching a child –-you can mould them the way you want. But an aspect that we often tend to overlook is that our driving force looks up to its leaders to set an example. Leaders that are approachable, flexible and empathetic.
The conflict arises when one begins to place personal goals above organizational needs and does not receive apt guidance on time. A situation that subtly instils insecurity at work. Thus enters the classic defence mechanism - opposing every idea, avoiding proactive participation, detesting the thought of taking advice from others. Results? Unleashing the ‘Wrath of Titans’--the unfortunate encounters with behaviors that blur the lines between professional sincerity and personal integrity.
Why initiatives fail
‘Why do I need to think out of the box when the team entrusted with responsibilities is already running so many campaigns successfully? Let me keep my ideas to myself.’
In our quest for excellence, organizations often stop making efforts to drive ownership that inculcates a sense of belonging. Lack of alignment leads to loss of passion for work --the one element that drives individuals to make things happen. Teammates get habituated to playing hide and seek and begin to showcase withdrawal symptoms, avoiding conflicts and resisting feedback. This leads to the beginning of trust issues.
Ambiguity in purpose and lack of clarity in job profiles, coupled with restrictions on utilizing resources, create a mindset of ‘individuals first, team second, and then the system’. Forbes simplistically calls it ‘the change battle fatigue’. It is about letting the failure of past attempts to overpower the current efforts. Why do initiatives fail then? Simple. Because the envisioned practicalities do not sync with the ground realities.
How we make things right
Who says only the new joinees need to be acquainted with the company values? Values are something that come to us naturally. Our core beliefs may vary, but when it comes to being aligned to a larger purpose, an onboarding supplemented with engaging refreshers at regular intervals could easily help.
There are three simple requirements - a sustainable behavioral framework, minimal hierarchy, and a functional mentoring mechanism. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to culture because the basic function of an organizational culture is to empower its employees. It’s easier to follow suit when you have somebody to guide you along the way. It is about living the values as a professional, irrespective of designations. If mentoring has been an age-old tradition in institutions to absorb students into the system faster, why should it be any different for corporates?
The classic case of change
There are many companies who adopt the path of values to implement cultural change. For example, Xerox was almost faced with bankruptcy when it re-invented its business model and redesigned its business offerings. Positioning itself as a ‘good corporate citizen’, they rode the waves of goodwill and emerged victorious by outlining a set of values that help them deliver top notch quality, again.
What makes you stand out
Your culture may have evolved over a period of time, but your people may have not. How about implementing an initiative that favours the people which is more employee-centric and not just leader driven? Familiarising the entire clan with everyday trends is where we all should begin from. Employees are likely to remember and accept a simple and crisp graphical representation, as opposed to a 20 pager document.
You don’t really have to think out of the box. But once in a while, rotating the box and changing the placement of the particulars in it will definitely help. It’s similar to the process of dusting, essential for good housekeeping.
Do this and you’ll realize that manoeuvring through the Bermuda triangle isn’t that complicated.