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Changing the culture of your business


Understanding that serving employees is as strategically important as serving customers, or meeting the financial needs of the shareholders, is a mind-shift for many managers says Simon Thane in this guest article.

In today’s fast-moving economy, the critical factor for sustainable business success is senior management’s ability to lead their employees through continuing change. They need to develop an inclusive business culture which serves the needs of customers, shareholders and employees with equal energy. Relationships with these three groups (customers, employees and shareholders) are of equal importance and require equal thought and work.

Let us briefly look at management relationships with these three stakeholder groups in turn

  • The voice of shareholders, who desire high short-term financial returns, is often listened to at the exclusion of the others at the boardroom table. Most managers feel the pressure of this short-termism from their financial masters. There is rarely today a management problem in hearing the voice of the shareholders or financial institutions, nor a lack of trying to serve their needs.

  • Similarly, customer needs have become an increasingly important factor in strategic planning in the last decade. Companies assiduously work on the improvement of product quality, delivery performance and customer service. The attitude of “customer is king” is now a reality in the companies who are surviving globalised competition. Customers are increasingly certain to have their voices heard and needs met.

  • In contrast, serving employees and meeting their needs are seen as secondary issues, to be put on hold when external problems arise. Employee motivation, empowerment, communications, teamworking and leadership are indeed popular management themes. The buzzwords are used in mission statements and corporate programmes. However the right attitudes and commitment have yet to permeate the everyday hearts and minds of enough business leaders.

To address the situation there is no lack of theory on leadership or cultural change. There are plenty of training courses and books in the shops. The problem is having the strong mind and will to implement it. Understanding that serving employees is as strategically important as serving customers or meeting the financial needs of the shareholders is a mind-shift for many managers. Employees are then not just to be seen as ‘resources’ owned as company servants and in need of control, but as a group to be treated by the company with the same deference as customers and shareholders.

Why is the management of change and the motivational leadership of employees so difficult? Two things are lacking:

  • A realisation that it requires a transformation in attitudes and values, and a deep commitment from the company leadership.
  • A realisation that cultural change is a long-term process, taking years.

A heartfelt and trusting belief in employees and their potential is needed. Treating staff as the “company’s greatest asset” is not just a mission objective, it is something that has to be consistently lived out in the everyday actions and attitudes of managers. Motivating employees is about having supportive, clear and trusting relationships in place. Such relationships are founded upon consistent ethical values and leadership grounded in an attitude of service. It needs care and time to develop this.

Success can be measured when visitors comment on the liveliness and enthusiasm they meet. It can be sensed, but not easily explained. You can see it in the eyes of the staff you meet when they show you round their patch, and on the performance graphs they proudly display on the wall. You can feel it when people come out of their shells and use their hidden talents with enthusiasm. You may have felt this energy and fulfillment yourself as part of a team which was really focused on a meaningful goal.

Developing an inclusive and adaptive culture can be the critical competitive edge for a business, one which rivals cannot easily duplicate, as there are no shortcuts. Combining management control with inspirational leadership, serving employees with as equal an energy and focus as customers and shareholders, value-driven leadership, leadership grounded in an attitude of service, change management skills, making work meaningful; these are the keys. Managers can unleash immense ‘value-added’ in people’s lives through work. In doing so their company receives this investment back many-fold.

This article has been contributed by Simon Thane, an independant consultant based in Wales, operating under the name Carreg Change. Simon has a busy business coaching senior business teams in cultural change and motivational leadership

One Response

  1. A depressing lack of understanding
    I have conducted various cultural audits over the years and worked on some of the agreed changes subsequently. I guess the depressing bit is the total lack of realisation that managers create cultures that can be deeply negative. I watched in amazement a couple of years ago when a company was undertaking a structural refit and dismissed as a time waster an employee who kept trying to point out major design faults. The result was that the company lost £45,000 in directly costable expenditure an uncosted amounts of time fixing the problem. The employee left and the company still feels that it is wiser not to listen to the people who work the processes. Taylorism still rules!

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