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Culture — Critical Corporate Resource

Business is no different — it is the culture that wins and not the individual talent

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Culture, one of the most critical yet most unaddressed component of organisational ecosystem, might hold the real key to the sustainable competitive edge in the changing new world. Easy availability and replicability of resources like capital, technology and even talent has further strengthened the case of this unique organisation signature called culture. 

Can culture really create or kill? The famous quote attributed to late management guru Peter Drucker ‘Culture eat strategy for breakfast’ articulates the real challenge. If human element is the hardware then culture is the operating system of an organisation. Motivated, collaborative and aligned forces can provide the ultimate lift-up required for organisations to be thrust into a higher orbit while self-centred conflicting forces might push it deep into an insecure unproductive quagmire. More often than not in sports, hungry and spirited team with ordinary players has crushed a star-studded yet disconnected team. Business is no different — it is the culture that wins and not the individual talent.

Next is the fitment of culture with the lifecycle stage and industry. Startup culture is very different from that of a matured business and a software business might need a very different culture from that of a retail business. So when large corporates trying to incubate new businesses fail, it’s not lack of talent, capital or ideas, it’s most probably the culture that gets transported from the mother ship which plays the villain.

Now how do we measure the culture or do we even do it? ‘What gets measured gets moving’ so its imperative that one measures the CQ or Culture Quotient of the organisation. But how many places have we seen it tracked, measured, shared or even discussed? If it is organisation’s operating system, shouldn’t it be measured as diligently as all other performance metrics? What metrics to track is another question. Performance orientation, risk taking, innovation, creativity, openness, collaboration, wellness, employee tenure, commitment, referrals, new project success rate etc — there are many to choose from. But again one should track only few high impact ones for focus and better execution. 

And now the most important question. Who owns the culture? Is it human resources team? Or shall it be the CEO? CEOs definitely have the biggest influence on corporate culture. The behaviour and actions of the CEO get mirrored and initiate strong cultural ripples. It is mostly this powerful invisible hand that guides the overall culture. People pick up the cues on what behaviour is rewarded and start imitating that to succeed. But then CEOs change and so does many a times the culture. It is the typical ‘personality over the process’ effect. If there is no defined culture of an organisation then every new leader will influence the culture — for good or for bad.

Then who should ultimately own the culture, this unique asset that can determine the competitive advantage and ultimately the sustainable success? Should it be the Board? The highest authority which has continuity and can have an outside and independent view on how healthy and aligned (to objectives) is the culture. Is there a need of a culture committee to keep an eye on the most critical ingredient of corporate success? There might be no right answers and it might work differently for different organisations — but undoubtedly culture needs a clear owner within the organisation and a regular health check overseen by an authority that can take an unbiased independent view and influence the desired changes.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Salil Kappoor

The author is a transformational business leader who has held leadership roles across both Consumer products as well as services. He is currently leading the appliances business at Orient Electric limited , a CK Birla group company. His Earlier assignments include Business head and CMO at LG, Product group head at Samsung, Chief operating officer at Dishtv, India MD at HOOQ ( A Singtel , Warner bros and Sony JV) and Chief Operating officer at Voltas. Having gained deep domain knowledge and experience in both offline and online businesses he is a keen student of Phygital where both physical and digital intersect.

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