Character and Corporate Culture

Character and Corporate Culture

It is not in calm seas that our character and integrity are tested but in times of crisis. It is at these times that mistakes are likely to happen.

When people think of ethics and social responsibility in the corporate context, they perceive it as a simple matter of determining what is right and wrong. Since we do not live in a world where decisions are a matter of black or white but more in shades of grey, steering the right course is not always a clear cut decision. With increased diversity of cultures and nationalities in the workplace, the topic of ethics and social responsibility becomes ever more complex, and one that should be treated with attention and focus.

Every company in hiring executives seeks people with integrity and good moral standards, but how do these translate to the corporate culture?

Every organisation has a value system. But is what the company says it stands for and the value system communicated, aligned with desired behaviours, practices and reward systems? There is little point in having formal policies and procedures that prescribe one mode of behaviour, if people are positively rewarded for achievements where an alternative and ‘non-desirable’ behaviour is applauded in terms of raises, bonuses and promotions.

Sharing the value system of an organisation enables the individuals within it to look within themselves and align their values and subsequent behaviour with that of the organisation, making them stronger people and better corporate citizens. Making this a topic of continual attention in an organisation has a resultant impact on the level of openness, integrity and trust amongst colleagues. Research has shown that in organisations with such systems, people within the organisation are motivated to not only be stronger representatives but better enabled to handle turbulent times such as change or crisis management. Continual attention to ethics in the work place sensitises leaders and staff to how they want to act consistently. And this comes from the top – leaders who lead by example will set the tone for the whole organisation to follow.

Ethics programmes have also been shown to support employee growth and development. A study cited in the Wall Street Journal found a direct correlation between the level of emotional health of an executive and the results of a battery of tests on ethics.

Having ethics as part of the organisation’s agenda better prepares employees to face reality with the resultant effect that they feel more confident and ready to deal with whatever comes their way.

Another benefit is the impact ethics can have on a company’s public image if people perceive those organisations as valuing the manner in which business is conducted more than profit. Recent years have seen greater attention to this factor, with more companies reporting on their social responsibility and analysts making it part of their agenda in their valuation of company stock.

In the meantime, we need to ask ourselves how are we contributing to the sustainability and longevity of the local economy? How are we ensuring that our actions have a positive contribution for the next generation and beyond?

Authenticity and Transparency as the Cornerstone of Business

Authenticity and Transparency as the Cornerstone of Business

Use the words ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ in a business meeting and you may find that an air of boredom sets in as staff steel themselves for, what they believe will be, yet another pep talk which has little to do with them and how they do their job.

So how can you explain the importance of authenticity and transparency and what do these words actually mean when we include them in our business thinking?

For me authenticity is about being yourself whether you are the CEO or the most junior member of staff. You won’t know all the answers so why pretend that you do? Create a culture where it is ok for people to speak up. If you walk around with bravado you will be intimidating others and you will, eventually, trip up. In the end that will cost you money because people will make mistakes as they are too afraid to ask for help.

Look at the way you recruit people. Do you really care about the people you recruit or have you simply decided they need to fit a certain role, act in a certain way and do their job ‘your way or the highway’?

Picking the wrong person will have an impact on your business quite apart from the cost of recruitment. If the interviewees are not encouraged to be authentic about who they really are then how will you know if they will fit? How will you know how to bring out their best and play to their strengths? One of the companies I worked with was particularly strong on this point. Since they recruited internationally, they knew that by offering someone a job they would be moving their family and their life across to the other side of the world. They wanted to be sure that the person would be happy and thrive in their role, as well as considering the needs of the family, because the consequences were far-reaching outside the workplace.

Transparency is an easy thing for companies to write in their mission statements but do they mean it? For me transparency is about being open about who they are as a business. So if they are claiming to be ethical then they need to be open about what they do and how they do it. This could be anything from where they source their material through to the treatment of workers outside of the UK.

The internet used responsibly has meant that there is no hiding place any longer for companies who choose to use sweat shops in the Far East or elsewhere. A smart phone and access to Wi-Fi means images from these places can be on YouTube within seconds of them being taken. How will your customers feel about you then?

A culture where a workforce feels valued will encourage staff to stay and to work with you as well as for you. Customers who feel you will do what you say, and you are who you claim to be, will keep coming back. Authenticity and transparency aren’t just words. They add value too, as long as you mean them.

As featured in Authenticity Rules

How to create the right company culture for your SME

How to create the right company culture for your SME

Ask a person the reason they love to travel and oftentimes they say to experience different cultures. Human beings seem to be intrigued by the social norms and ways of living of their fellow man in different cities and villages around the world. Having the experience and exposure to other cultures somehow adds a certain colour to our own lives, a certain richness.

What we are less aware of perhaps are the unique cultures we create in these environments we call workplaces. Just as the reality of visiting a country rarely reflects any possible depiction portrayed in a brochure, company culture is hard to convey by text printed in a company handbook or website, but rather better experienced by its essence, its spirit.

But how can we translate something seemingly ethereal into something more tangible and why is it even important?

The ‘spirit’ of a company

Just as any culture around the world is formed over time through traditions, cultural norms, societal needs, forms of communication, behaviours and attitudes, so too is a corporate culture.

Through a combination of day-to-day interactions we create the environments we work in, and those environments come with particular qualities regarding desired and accepted behaviours, attitudes, principles and modes of communication.

There is one main difference though – I am not aware of any society in the world that set out to create a particular culture intentionally, consciously. Rather the culture morphed through the ages. It could be said that some companies morphed in the same way, directed mainly through the attitude and conduct of the board, leaders and managers, and the behaviours that were tolerated.

But if you stop to think about it for a moment, through corporate culture we really do have quite an awesome opportunity – that through our actions, we can shape and form a mini-society that lends itself to our highest ideals, to enable others to step up to the plate and be their best, to focus on and achieve a unified purpose and direction.

And quite scary in the wrong hands…

So how do we get it right?

Setting the Tone

If you want to set the ‘right’ culture – start with yourself. Whether you are aware of it or not, your character, your personal conduct, value system and manner of treating others is akin to a metronome, the timekeeping device used in music to keep everyone in sync. So ask yourself some key questions:

Who are you, what do you stand for, what drives you? How do you treat others? Are you a person of your word? Can you be trusted? How do you come across – friendly, approachable, aloof, firm but fair?

How do you communicate, what is your preference – formal, structured, agenda led, walk around the floor? How do people interact with you and react to you?

What is your business ethos and how does it translate in practice?

Your people

The people you surround yourself with and the manner in which you interact with them speaks volumes. If for instance you are smart enough (and humble enough) to realise that you are not great at everything and surround yourself with people who are ‘better’ than you, you have set the scene for greatness. That is of course if you also create the environment for them to speak their mind and you are open minded enough to listen.

Measuring success

What does success look like for you and your company? Is it just about profit at all costs? What milestones do you measure and reward? Does the manner in which objectives are met really matter and are they taken into account? Are certain behaviours tolerated, just as long as there are results?

Aligning vision with practice

A lofty and noble vision is all well and good but it’s what you do in practice that counts.

Do not underestimate the impact that your individual actions and conduct have in setting the standards and the cultural tone. So ask yourself: Do you want to create an environment in which compromising behaviours are tolerated in the name of profit? Or, do you want to generate an environment that nurtures, develops and engages competence and character, to build great companies that add value to more than just their profit margins?

As featured in WorkLab

Salty Not Sweet – Insights Into Women’s Leadership

Salty Not Sweet – Insights Into Women’s Leadership

It always amuses me to see the look of bewilderment when people hear that I love working in the Middle East, and even more surprised when they find out I had a successful practice in the region. This surprise is for the simple reason that I’m a woman.

I understand how there is a perception that women are not respected or highly regarded in the Middle East, therefore making it difficult to fathom how a woman could have a successful business. But in my experience, the traits that seem to be more abundant amongst women, such as insight, intuition and inclusion, seem to be trusted and appreciated in the Middle East, enabling us to not only contribute but also play our role in business

But I am just as bewildered as those who find my success in the Middle East surprising, by some of the rhetoric around women in the workplace and leadership in the UK and London specifically. A recent article on the matter pointed out that 15% of Senior Leadership roles in the City were held by women, and the majority of those by foreigners. The article went further by attributing this ‘fact’ to the foreign women’s swagger. The truth of the matter is, given that London is a global financial center, there is a strong likelihood that a senior leadership role will have a regional or global focus and if the potential candidates haven’t had any international experience, they simply don’t qualify, swagger or not.

That said, the ‘swagger’ comment did get me thinking, and led me to reflect on the great Arab women I have had the privilege of interviewing and working with. They are highly intelligent, very well-educated and extremely insightful – ingredients which are prevalent amongst many women around the world. They don’t seek to be liked but rather have the courage of their convictions. They don’t have to speak loudly or demand to be listened to, but still have their views be known and considered. They tend to speak less and act more. They are compassionate and kind but don’t tolerate fools.  But above all else, there is a particular ingredient in their presence and demeanor, described perfectly by a dear friend from the region – “we are salty not sweet”.

 

From Segregation to Sisterhood

It’s fascinating when you think about it. Yes, women in the region tend to live more segregated lives. This means that instead of competing with men, they understand and nurture the concept of sisterhood, encouraging and supporting each other. When they get older and enter the corporate realm, government or family business, they are purposeful and have a quiet self-confidence, an inner strength which is ready to come out and be deployed in a broader spectrum. And contrary to popular belief, they are welcomed in the workplace and encouraged to grow and rise through the ranks. Have they had challenges to overcome? Absolutely. Challenges have shaped their character, balancing their resilience, perseverance and determination, together with their faith, patience and belief in a higher power. Formidable indeed.

So what are some of the ingredients that help foster women’s capabilities in this way that we could instill to make our companies more balanced, diverse and better equipped to handle the changing times?

 

Vision & Purpose

If you want to attract, nurture and keep the best women, consider what difference your business makes, why it matters. Frankly, if your business isn’t concerned with anything other than profit, you are going to face challenges in finding and keeping people with character and competence – women  or men.

 

Interview From the Inside Out

If you are using an interview simply as a checkbox exercise to see if the person has the skills for a particular job, you are missing out on a great opportunity. A person’s CV is merely a scratch on the surface of not only who this person really is, but also how far their capabilities can extend. Context is key.

As a starter, why don’t you put the CV aside and get them to tell you their story. Adopt a curious mind,  seeking to learn about the person’s experiences that has brought them to the present day. This approach can open up an individual’s character, their way of thinking, approach to challenges, and the environment and factors needed to bring out their best. You never know – you could even learn something along the way.

 

Don’t Hire What You Don’t Appreciate

This may seem a bit of a shock, but frankly, if you don’t see how someone adds value to your organisation, why hire them? And if the person is onboard, why aren’t you listening to their viewpoint and perspective?  If you want yes people who just go along with what you say, you are wasting your money in hiring great people. A recorded message to yourself telling you you’re doing a good job will suffice. But if you hire us, listen to us. We have a different perspective. It may not be what you want to hear but we are here to add value. Allow us – there are skills, traits and natural capabilities just waiting to be engaged. If you don’t appreciate us, we’ll find someone who does.

 

As featured in Women’s Prospects 

Vision + Execution = Value

Vision + Execution = Value

A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa.

We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate.

Wanting to ensure he could translate his vision into practice, we tested the principles he had laid out against target investments. This proved to be the bigger challenge since some of the target investments were not in alignment with what he espoused. Moreover, he was happy to justify it with the return they would bring.

Using the values, behaviours and desired return he had set for himself, we challenged his thinking and guided him in exploring alternatives. We mapped out the framework that would enable him to navigate future forks in the road and improve his decision making.

A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa.

We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate.

Wanting to ensure he could translate his vision into practice, we tested the principles he had laid out against target investments. This proved to be the bigger challenge since some of the target investments were not in alignment with what he espoused. Moreover, he was happy to justify it with the return they would bring.

Using the values, behaviours and desired return he had set for himself, we challenged his thinking and guided him in exploring alternatives. We mapped out the framework that would enable him to navigate future forks in the road and improve his decision making.

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A budding entrepreneur wanted to create an investment company focused on Africa. We helped him define and shape the vision, as well as the values and behaviours he wanted to stand for and demonstrate. Wanting to ensure he could translate his vision into practice, we...

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