Organization culture is an amalgamation of knowledge, beliefs, rituals, customs, values, hierarchy and social behaviour. A common grouse most CEO’s voice is their HR is unable to build and sustain the “intended culture”. Their intention of creating a thriving organization where every action has purpose, employees own the roles and responsibility and collectively the organization excel in their activities may not be happening seamlessly. The reason could be the HR is too caught up in mundane transactional activities or naïve and inexperienced to understand what exactly to do. Many inexperienced HR seldom understand why the company celebrates diverse festivals or post host of photos on Facebook and other social media. The challenge is more pronounced in professional organizations wherein junior employees need to learn the rigours of the profession and ropes of vocation by observing, practicing and imbibing the values. Limitations of collegiate education with rudimentary exposure to practice and real-life professional requirement add to the woes.
Another major challenge is when organizations undergo restructuring and a newer CTO or business leader may pursue short-term actions that impair the organizations existing culture. In a large IT organization well known for process driven and quality adherence, a newly minted CTO brought in drastic changes that expedited software development but at a huge cost to the quality and reliability of the development. Favouritism, lack of documentation, and poor process ownership resulted in otherwise well-knit unit fragmented and ineffective. So how does one go about building an organizational culture where outcome quality matters, customer delivery, professional ownership and development is the norm.
Culture needs to be defined, practiced, communicated and reinforced. First define the elements of culture you want to create. In a professional service firm environment the elements could be how would seniors review and guide the juniors?. How open and periodic would be the feedback.? How would incompetence and low quality work be tolerated?. How would job rotation be used to identify the hidden and right talents of the employee?. How would you handle wrong hire?. Would there be an automatic Performance improvement plan (PIP) pursued even when the employee is known to be ineffective?. Define what would be the right initiative taking behaviour? Would you want inexperienced employee to take decisions and react to customers without knowing the implications?. Loads of apologies and sorry may not bring back the customer lost or brand compromise.
One the cultural elements are broadly defined, roll out and practice with highest intensity. Do not take short cuts. If the objective is to create “quality outcome” driven culture’ do not promote “Chalta Hai” attitude. Curb it right away. Provide the feedback instantly rather than waiting for a formal review period.
While action speaks louder than words, communicating the results of actions is a must. Communicate positive results and behaviour. If an employee happens to be late always while reporting to work but prompt at checking out, communicate it rightly. If an employee’s quality of work is poor and does not meet client requirement, provide the feedback directly so that employee knows about it. If an employee is unable to justify the role he/she has been hired, communicate the alignment issues, and address the issue by allocating the employee based on their interest and competence.
Finally, a culture can only be sustained by continuous reinforcement in terms of its application and follow up. Handle transgressions with care, educate employees why adherence to rituals, participation in festivals and posting in Facebook is important. If an employee is disgruntled for want of adherence educate him. Remember the pain of discipline hurts far less than pain of regret.