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Corporate culture counts

Culture has a definite part to play in the success or failure of a company as the business model and the way you present the organisation to the customer will have bearing on the culture that exists in the company. Devraj Uchil finds out.

business Updated: Feb 13, 2008 23:37 IST
Devraj Uchil

"Here is what we will not stand for: incremental change, avoiding risk, thinking short-term, blocking innovation, tying our people’s hands, defending procedures that don’t make sense, and selling what we have instead of what the customer wants. In short, we will not stand for business as usual”

- Bill Ford on Ford Motors’ culture

During an HR training session, a person was blindfolded and another was asked to walk him around. After the five-minute walk, both had different tales to tell – the guide termed the exercise fun, while the blindfolded person called it a harrowing experience. A new employee, irrespective of his hierarchy, faces the same apprehension for want of clear vision and culture in the organisation.

Lack of organisational culture not only confuses and ties down employees from giving their best; it also affects the way the company deals with its clients, partners and suppliers. “Culture has a definite part to play in the success or failure of a company – as the business model and the way you present the organisation to the customer will have bearing on the culture that exists in the company,” says Vinit Durve, VP, corporate HR, Zicom Electronic Security Systems Ltd. If the culture is to take the customer for granted, then the entire value chain would behave accordingly.

Most companies and their top honchos talk of organisational culture, but are unable to define it, says Sanjay Teli, MD, ESP Consultants India. “It’s a rainbow effect — very difficult to identify genuinely, but corporates paint them well. It’s critical to build an organisation entity but nobody is sure about what the culture is, since it varies on individual viewpoints.”

Culture in any organisation should have two common factors: respect for differences, and leveraging talent within the organisation, according to Mark Zupan, dean & professor of Economics and Public Policy, Simon Graduate School of Business, University of Rochester. Best ideas are there within an organisation – it takes a proper channel or programme to bring it to the fore. This is where the organisational culture comes in. A commonly used definition of organisational culture is ‘the way we see and do things around here’. “Culture provides structural stability to an organisation and hence it makes a decisive impact on success or failure of a company,” says Kaushal Mashruwala, MD, Savvion India. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the time taken is longer and hence the effort is not very visible.

Culture is known to get passed on and evolve. So is the case with corporate ethos. “New people walk into companies with newer ideas everyday and to sync this dynamism of the Gen Y with the company’s growth, one needs to keep evolving the work culture,” Ashwin Thacker, chairman & MD, Flamingo Pharmaceuticals, states.

Also, organisational culture flows from top to bottom, and from bottom to top. It is a team effort. A leader plays the most critical role of percolating organisational culture down to subordinates. According to Mashruwala, “Organisational culture is completely dependent on leaders. In fact, beliefs, ideas and values of the leaders shape the culture of their organisation.”

Ravi Kiran, CEO, South Asia, Starcom, believes that sometimes the culture of an organisation gets defined by the kind of its customers, and at times the culture gets its own kind of clients. “In the past, agencies such as Trikaya Grey and Enterprise had a certain kind of culture, attracting their kind of talent and clients and therefore produced a certain kind of product. Exactly at the same time, other agencies such as Lintas and HTA (now JWT) produced a different kind of product.”

Professionally managed companies known for their ethics and ethos, build their brand by holding their people together. “Vibrancy of organisational culture can be judged not only through its performance, but also by checking the attrition rate,” says Teli.