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Culture: The Most Critical Corporate Resource

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

Photo Credit : Reuben Singh/dailymail.co.uk

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Culture, one of the most critical yet least addressed 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 eats strategy for breakfast’ articulates the real challenge. If human element is the hardware then culture is the operating system of the 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 alignment of culture with the lifecycle stage of the organisation and it's industry. Start-up 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, its 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 (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 ? Should the CHRO also be the CCO (Chief Culture Officer) ? HR has surely shown some good progress over the years from staffing to talent management ( Mapping, acquiring, retaining and developing talent) but is yet to take on the role of managing culture . Can they do it even if they intend to? And is the culture too critical to be left to HR ? Is it business team that has the last say? Or shall it be the CEO, the captain of the ship? 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 it and can even change it. A new captain from outside or promoted from within might end up changing the cultural fibre for ever - 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 (Like remuneration or audit committees) 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 Kapoor

The author Chief Operating Officer with a leading air conditioning and appliances company of India. His earlier assignments include MD India of an online Video / OTT Startup (JV between Singtel, Warner Bros and Sony Pictures) , COO of India's largest Satellite Paytv company, CMO and Business head of leading consumer electronics /appliances companies. He is also independent director on Board of a solar startup, Simpa Networks (An Engie Company). He is also passionate about Startups, running and yoga.

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