Defining an Organisation’s Culture

A few days ago, Frank Sonnenberg (www.franksonnenberg.com) wrote an article entitled Leadership: Promoting Beliefs and Values. He stated that great leaders never miss an opportunity to reinforce their organisations beliefs and values because it is these beliefs and values that form the core of an organisations culture. Quite rightly he goes on to posit that these beliefs and values affect the norms of behaviour and can change attitudes and this is why management must support them by clear and visible actions.

He goes on to list a number of very significant questions that test a firm’s commitment to its values. I recommend you read the article in full. It can be found here.

However, I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a few minutes and maybe turn the whole idea on its head!

I believe that the natural order of things in a firm is for the owner/founder/CEO/Leader to hire in his own image. By that, I mean, you tend to surround yourself with people that have very similar beliefs and values. I agree that as a firm grows this may become more difficult and more fractionalised but in essence the principle is true.

With this in mind, is it likely that core beliefs and values are at risk? You might say that if the guy at the top is not consistent then the firm’s culture will not be consistent. In this case, I would argue that such inconsistency will lead the firm to failure so the leader is not a true leader.

In my firm, we have identified four key behavioural areas; Driving for Results, Working Together, Making Great Decisions and Doing it Right. When we interview potential new employees, we spend as much time as needed to understand the candidate’s attitudes and values in each behavioural area. We have developed a series of primary and secondary questions designed to solicit opinion and anecdote in each area. The primary reason for this approach is to ensure we continue to hire people that fit the culture.

My hypothesis is that by building structures that ensure you continue to hire to fit the culture and by simple consistency of message the firm’s culture will always be self-healing.

Our vision, our clear picture of the future, is still in its formative stages. After reading Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner, I threw out the old vision statement and have started the process of jointly developing a vision so that we can be “Full Steam Ahead”… but you need to read the book to fully understand that concept!

About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.

, , , ,

7 comments
emmackland
emmackland

@raquelsmythe @peterborner @clairer73 @catherineajames but surely difference & opposition good understanding & valuing required? #dialogue

SusanMazza
SusanMazza

While I do believe it is a natural tendency to hire in our own image I also believe there is a point at which the culture takes on a life of it's own and even the CEO no longer has the power to shape the culture simply through their personal actions/practices. I think the culture including the values of an organization must be mindfully built into the practices, processes and procedures both formally and informally to ensure they endure over time. Building the culture into the hiring process is a great example of this.

Adi Gaskell
Adi Gaskell

Culture and purpose are essential. Now more than ever companies need to recruit people to their effort that aren't on the payroll. Look at things like Wikipedia or the open source software movement. People are sufficiently motivated to devote their spare time and energies to a cause they believe in. In our social age this is the future. All the tools exist to mobilise such a force. Do you have a sufficiently attractive cause for them to get behind?

raquelsmythe
raquelsmythe

@emmackland @peterborner @clairer73 @catherineajames if u believe culture evolves wouldn't behaviours u were looking 4 always b changing?

Peterborner
Peterborner moderator

@SusanMazza Thanks for commenting. I think we are aligned in our thought process. I recognise that culture takes on a life of its own as the team becomes larger and larger. I am trying to avoid sub-cultures from arising that are in conflict with the larger group culture. One of the ways I do this is by checking behavioural and cultural attitudes within the hiring process.

Peterborner
Peterborner moderator

@Adi Gaskell You open up a much more complex side of the discussion by adding the "volunteer sector" in to the equation. I have been watching a number of tweets and blog posts from Dan Rockwell (@Leadershipfreak) recently on this very subject so would recommend you follow Dan if you are interested in extending the conversation..

In my personal life I am a committed Rotarian so have experience of working in volunteer teams. It can certainly be a very different management challenge if you let it. Fortunately, alignment with the cause usually overrides the need for any sort of management control. I find that with volunteers we always succeed to meet our goals in the end. The issue is usually one of meeting the plan as volunteer work quite often has to take a back seat.

ClaireR73
ClaireR73

@raquelsmythe @emmaackland @catherineajames This is why working well with difference is such an important value-will be core to our success