Authored by: Yash Mahadik, Mallika Galani and Sameer Kumar Agrawal
Organization culture is a formidable enabler of innovation, change and success in most organisations. Over the years culture has become a great coffee table discussion among leaders across industries. It’s formidable because its a sustainable competitive advantage that cannot be easily copied by competitors. Today culture as competitive advantage is helping companies attract and retain talent, drive innovation, remain cost competitive, etc. Last week, I was involved in one such HR leadership forum discussion organized by SpencerStuart. The discussion centered around ‘Harnessing the power of organizational culture’. It was my privilege and honor to chair the forum consisting of large company CHROs and other HR Leaders representing a diverse mix of organizations. SpencerStuart have a well articulated culture alignment framework of their own. It’s based on research and they have been validating it with many organisations as they consult with them. At the beginning of the session, Sahiba Singh from SpencerStuart explained the framework and model in detail. The details of the framework can be accessed via this link: Org Culture SpencerStuart
“Culture can become a ‘secret weapon’ that makes extraordinary things happen.” – Jon Katzenbach, Booz&Co
In our collective and diverse experience, we observed that, culture is experienced and felt even in the absence of a well-articulated manifesto. Employees can clearly sense and feel the elements of their organisational culture, elements such as; how ethical and value based is the leadership in their organisation, what are they genuinely valued for, are their ideas welcomed, are their capabilities and contributions reflected fairly in their career growth and learning opportunities, etc, etc. Tone at the top and behaviour exhibited by senior leaders on a day to day basis especially during the crucial moments within an organisation shapes the culture. Little can a company achieve with a politically correct and well articulated statement hanging on the wall without the Leaders behaviour and attitude backing it up. So how does an organization create a culture that affirms the aspirations of its individual members while also inspiring the collective to add significant value towards the business?
Rohit Thakur, Head Human Resource, Accenture India, whilst sharing his perspective, said that, ‘the responsibility for setting the tone – the culture – rests with the leader of the organization’. We have often witnessed change in leadership manifesting a change in culture. Hence it’s imperative for a company or a team to be led by someone who places high importance on performance and results, acts with integrity and expects others to do the same. These leadership qualities engender a highly spirited organization and magic happens when leaders create the conditions for employees to contribute meaningfully. One of the key examples of this is the humility and integrity being the key cultural element at Sun Pharma and in this case it cascades from these traits being exhibited by the promoter and founder of the organization.
Rohit Kumar, HR Head Kelloggs India added to this by saying that culture at times is not organizational, rather its more functional or business unit led and this can be attributed to the unique leadership style existing in these silos.
Leena Wakankar, HR Leader, ASK Group, brought in a different flavour to the discussion by talking about ‘Aha Moments!!’ She referred to a popular quote “Every leader has his or her leadership moments and every organization has its culture moments”.During an organizations life cycle there come a few occasions when its fundamentals are tested and existential questions asked, and in such situations, only the organizations who are able to hold on to their basic cultural elements stand strong.
Mona Hakeem, Head HR Emerging Markets and Talent Acquisition COE at Sun Pharma (Ex-GE employee), shared her perspective on a very interesting fact about the three most influential group cultures in the US, which are supposed to be that of the US Army, Kindergarden and GE. That’s GE’s proud culture moment right there! GE is well known for creating and sustaining a culture of performance, which in turn develops and provides top-notch world class leaders for GE and other industries. It’s well known how this culture emanates from their CEO and top leaders.
Organisational culture building endeavour becomes challenging at every life cycle stage of a company, such as, during the start up phase, during the scale up phase or during its perpetuity. However the biggest challenge is posed when two companies are merging as a result of an merger or acquisition. Assimilating two distinct organisational cultures is more complex as compared to building and nurturing one culture. During most post-merger phases, the harder aspects related to business and financial systems such as; portfolio & footprint rationalization/integration, financial system integration usually get addressed right at the onset and with relative smoothness as compared to some of the softer aspects related to people and culture. Our experience and research suggests that companies are able to create more value by integrating the harder aspects and the softer aspects with equal attention and urgency.
We are very proud about how we are successfully integrating yet evolving the cultural aspects of two giant organizations – SunPharma and Ranbaxy by understanding and retaining the DNA and strengths of both the organizations. We (the authors of this blog) conducted a test exercise of deploying the culture model of SpencerStuart to run a diagnostic to understand the cultural orientation of the two legacy organizations (SunPharma & Ranbaxy) and to chart out the cultural needs and parameters of the unified entity (SunPharma). We have been able to identify three focal pillars on which we build the culture of our company. One of them being the relentless drive and focus on results. Second critical parameter is caring for one and all, be it our own employees or our patients and partners. Thirdly we shall continue to focus on holistic learning and development to ensure that we stay competent and grow stronger with every passing day.
R. Mahalakshmi, Head Director Human Resources, India, Mondelez added to this by sharing her experiences of being a part of two very interesting mergers, first one being that of Ernst & Young and Anderson wherein the two firms varied a lot in their consulting approach, clientele and employee base and the second that of Cadbury and Kraft and now Mondelez where in there has been a key shift from a definitive focus on being a caring organization to one being extremely focussed on results.
Nathan S V, Chief Human Resources Officer, Deloitte India, also shared his valuable perspectives and gave a very good example of Deloitte. Deloitte is globally composed of 70+ different entities and the way they have managed to amalgamate the cultural aspects of each of these and yet maintain a distinctive Deloitte way of doing things. The way they go about doing this is by focusing on investing in learning. Learning for Deloitte is a major culture building anchor. How leaders as teachers focus on creating a learning culture and example of the Deloitte University and its role in building a organisational culture were terrific examples.
There is much discussion happening on the importance of building, renewing and evolving organisational culture and its direct correlation to business results. There is now a growing realization that culture is one of the biggest differentiators between organizations and almost as critical for attracting and retaining the right talent as their products or services are for winning customers. The question that we pose to our readers is, ‘how and when will we be able to understand the science and art behind organisational culture and make it a part of our strategic HR agenda and more importantly a business priority?”
In conclusion, we say that, “Free food, getting pets to work, casual dressing, working from home etc are often seen by many as important symbols of an organisations culture and its attractiveness. In our opinion its the icing and not the cake. The culture cake consists of solid fundamentals such as ethical and value based leadership, transparency and fairness, equal oppurtunities, socially responsible thinking/values/behaviors, environmentally sustainable actions and above all respect for human beings without discrimination. Once the cake is baked nice and solid the icing will make it even more attractive.”
“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com