Monday, August 15, 2011

The Importance of Corporate Culture

Can one person make a difference in a large organization?


Although many modern executives operate under such regulatory constraints that they have infinite responsibility but limited authority,  a single person can create a corporate culture that impacts everyone's work experience.

What do I mean by creating the corporate culture?

While flying back from Japan, the in flight magazine on All Nippon Airways featured an article about Zappos' corporate culture noting that the CEO has created an environment which emphasizes fun, creativity and happiness in the workplace.  Happy employees deliver great customer service without needing micromanagement or clandestine monitoring of every conversation.

When evaluating leaders we often think of characteristics such as vision, interpersonal skills, commitment to quality, staff engagement, financial acumen, ability to raise money, and domain expertise.

However, we rarely consider their impact on corporate culture.  It can make a huge difference.

In my professional life, I've had two dozen bosses, each with a different style, approach, and culture.

Here's a few questions to ask about your culture

1. Do you arrive at the office every day thinking about the joy of success or the fear of failure?  Are you supported such that a negative outcome is a learning experience that results in policy or process change to improve the organization rather than blaming the person who caused it?

2. Is communication open and transparent, or guarded and reserved?

3. Do managers share accountability and see their role as enabling your success, or are they pugilists who punish unmet goals by screaming louder?

4. Do you have clear expectations for the work you do and clear metrics for success?

5. Is loyalty and trust valued?  Is hierarchy respected or is your authority undermined by senior executives who work around you?  Would you trust your boss to hold your rope?

6. Do staff feel respect and admiration for their colleagues such that there is a family-like atmosphere in which people will go the extra mile for each other?

7. If someone impedes the work of others through passive aggressive behavior or scheming for their own self interest, is it tolerated?

8. Is everyone empowered to make a difference?  Are policies and procedures clear so that they know how to make a difference?

9.  Are all emails/communications asking for guidance answered promptly?

10.  Do you feel positive energy about the possibilities ahead when you wake up each day or does each day end in a tailspin of emotional exhaustion?

Throughout my career I've worked in positive cultures and negative cultures.   I do whatever I can to create a positive culture in the organizations I oversee.  It's not always possible to create a positive culture within a larger organization that has a negative culture, but we should all try.

May you always work in a positive culture and if you do not, have the wisdom to seek a better place!


Anonymous said...

I have just one observation. This month you have posted two blogs regarding what some may consider “soft” leadership skills. I found it interesting that there have been no comments regarding these posts. I’m wondering if leaders really values some of the ideas you presented or if it is just, what I like to call, “leadership marketing”.

GreenLeaves said...

Thanks for the blog. I am continually surprised how much impact an individual in a leadership role delivers to the organization under them.

My prime example is Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines; a large organization who's employees still appear to have a lot of fun doing their work thanks to the corporate culture advanced by Gary.

Unknown said...

Bravo, John, for showing the other side to organizational success. I have been to the Zappos fulfillment center (yes, in Kentucky). The Center itself is a cross between a gigantic warehouse and a scene from the Matrix.

But it is clear from a simple visit and tour by the supervisor, that everything written about the culture is true. The Zappos community if composed of what some might say are "ordinary" people who collectively do extraordinary things.

In an era where we look to individual heros (or federal committees) for quick answers, Zappos and the many other similar organizations remind us of how excellence is really realized.