How to build great corporate culture

Corporate culture is everything; you cannot work where you do not fit in. To this end, organisations are investing plenty of time and resources to build the right kind of environment for their employees.

Corporate culture determines who gets hired, what direction the business takes, how leaders act and how information is shared. As a company grows, its culture ensures the business stays true to its vision and mission.

But according to culture trainer Tazim Elkington, the idea of corporate culture has yet to be fully understood by most Kenyan organisations.

Employees do not know what corporate culture means as it is not ingrained in their psyche, and each person behaves according to his or her interpretation of it, she says.

Ms Elkington’s company, Indian Black Butterfly, helps shift people’s mindsets, beliefs and socialisation to build more cohesive corporate teams. The firm does this through customised workshops that tackle leadership, management, attitude, performance and delivery.

“Corporate culture needs to have been envisioned, explained and understood by every single employee,” she says.

“For instance, if one of your core values is integrity, your employees are truthful to customers, colleagues, bosses and even their families.”

Once employees realise a business does not allow for dishonesty and customers find that every transaction with the firm is above board, then profits will begin to flow in, Elkington says.

Corporate culture should not be based on profit making and meeting targets, but on growing, expanding and making human resources richer by developing every single employee, she adds. This will increase workers’ loyalty to the business, improve their productivity and boost motivation.

And instead of enabling negative authority and concentrating power at the top, a good corporate culture creates an environment that empowers employees.

If you are after a teamwork culture, for instance, the leaders must first truly work as a team to trickle this behaviour and its benefits down to junior staff.

Do you want to put customer satisfaction above all else? Then your leaders have to put the customer at the centre of everything they do, and not accept any compromises.

Done wrong, corporate culture can lead to a disconnect between employees and bosses, breaking down communication, and entrenching petty jealousies and man-eat-man mindsets.

“There should be some level of autonomy if human beings are to grow and become better, but using authority and power to put others down will only cause processes to break down at every level,” says Elkington.

The realities of the modern workplace demand equality. The core values of a company need to reflect this trait in the attitudes, behaviour and interactions encouraged between employees.

“When one walks into an organisation and sees that everyone is treated with humanity and dignity, be it the tea girl, receptionist or CEO, customers and employees will want to be associated with the business,” says Elkington.

Unfortunately, she says, too many companies transfer the inequalities in society to the workplace, with those in more junior positions made to feel less valuable than those at the top. This leaves the responsibility of growing the business to the very few people in management, an untenable situation.

“It also stunts individual growth and keeps employees afraid of losing their jobs. They do not do anything to rock the boat, which includes sharing ideas that could transform the organisation. This culture of silence needs to end.”

One of the best ways to bring about change is by addressing communication structures. Communicate your values and culture clearly and continuously. Encourage feedback to be sure employees understand your mission and its importance. Reward those who put the culture into practice, and be honest and open with those who do not.

Communication ensures your culture is not just a list of hollow words, but an honest expression of what your business stands for.

“Companies have to start creating a culture that promotes people first. Profits will follow once people are taken care of,” says Elkington, adding that in many firms, corporate culture started as an idea, but became a huge business without a foundation being laid.

And like a house built without a good foundation, cracks will emerge, ultimately leading to collapse. Elkington warns organisations against short-term fixes, which she says will not work, as “Kenya is now part of the global market, which requires certain standards, which are best entrenched through a corporate culture”.

“Customers demand 100 per cent service, not lies or miscommunication; clients want their demands met, not excuses. But this cannot happen with external customers, unless there is a culture within the organisation that delivers these results to internal customers, who are the employees.”