Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Corporate Persona

It is funny how companies take on a personality of their own. Many times a company's success of failure is dictated by their culture. What I find interesting is that there are volumes written about corporate culture but few really seem to mean much. Let me tell you what corporate culture is not. Corporate culture is not a "mission statement." Is doesn't look like something that is generated by HR or anywhere else within an organization that is manufactured. The world culture comes from the Latin word cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate". This is interesting as corporate culture is cultivated but can only come from a naturally occurring source. I have seen good "corporate cultures" and bad ones. Neither of which really were things that people could control; they just manifest themselves based on realities that exist. The prevailing culture comes from the top; I have heard it many times, "speed of the leader, speed of the pack." When you see a group failing, look to the top and typically you will find poor leadership. Emotions and Feelings are human they are also embodied by companies as they are built out of the building blocks of people. Everything that "is" a company becomes the persona and is reflected in the corporate culture. In the witnessing of this culture both good and bad I have learned that good leaders spend a lot of thought in building, preserving and protecting a group's culture. This becomes an intangible asset more powerful than the people themselves. It is the power by which fuels both the internal and the external. It can take a new hire and drive them to success of failure. It can also bring new vendors and clients to the table just by its existence.

Entrepreneur.com called corporate culture, "A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time." I think this is a very accurate description as it talks to the elements of what comprises the culture but one thing the definition doesn't talk to is how the elements affect each other or which ones are weighted the most. If the truth be told you really cannot create the formula for the culture as it is a living think with everything becoming a chemical reaction to the others. This chemistry ultimately creates a unique ingredient that has the power to build or destroy what it touches. This energy is the force by which pushes a company to greatness or drags a company to its knees. It is so sad that very few pay any attention to the development of a strategy for the creation of a good and solid culture. I think most managers mid and high level look at it as an exercise that was taught in a business class that has no real application or relevance to true business success.

Corporate culture can be a headquarters initiative and a "in field" phenomenon. Many companies try to control or manipulate the culture without having true merits to its creation. This culture manufacturing can backlash. Once someone realizes that they have been mislead in their beliefs distrust begins to build that is much harder to pull down than the walls of China. Employees hate to be treated like cattle and want to be treated intelligently and fairly. Good managers and organizational leaders learn quickly whom they can entrust with the truth. This handing out of the truth builds trust and loyalty as it is a very rare trait in people especially when money is involved. Most will sell out to trickery and simple manipulation to get the results they desire and in so create a culture that becomes a hidden liability. It becomes a ticking time bomb that will go off when you least expect it and typically when you cannot afford it. It will take out your best people and leave you with followers that have no direction.

A quick way to create a dangerous culture is the use of disinformation. As a company our objectives, goals and directives are only as good as the sum total of the people carrying out those objectives, goals and directives. Bad culture comes from lack of leadership or poor leadership. A strong leader will create warriors while a poor leader creates thieves and victims. The results are evidence of the quality of the leadership. Poor results equal poor planning and poor execution. And the lack of a quality culture come from the lack of weight given to the creation of a strong culture and bond which can hold a company together in the toughest of times. In a soft economy like what we are experiencing now it is even more important than ever to bring forth strong leaders and to pay attention to the culture that we create if we are to survive to fight another day.

The sad thing is that many companies spend more time thinking about things that are not core to their business. They major in the minors and never get a chance to step up to the plate to hit a "home run." Many a fortune 500 contender has gone away do to a lack of focus on their core competencies, and maintained simple strategies that will take them to their ultimate goals. I work for an office equipment sales and service company that is owned by a manufacturer of office equipment. What is interesting is that we administrate ourselves to death. We spend more energy on things that do not make us money and refuse to focus in on money making activities. We know what problems we have but are unable to solve them. Our problems are just ignored as they are "too big" to surmount. Logistics, Supply Chain, Customer Relationship Management, Order Entry, Order Fulfillment, Service and Support all our noble things to excel at. These are elements of any business that if neglected will ultimately contribute to its failure. But without a strong culture even a company that has all of these things ironed out cannot survive especially in times like these when even the secretary is a pirate.

As I survive another merger I just watch the ants in the colony work, all the time thinking…

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