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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The value of values: preserving corporate culture through business growth

Important because culture helps shape corporate identity and establish values, which, in turn, solidify principles and philosophies

Workers use smartphones inside an office. Establishing a good corporate culture is crucial: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
Workers use smartphones inside an office. Establishing a good corporate culture is crucial: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

The final quarter of 2017 is an opportunity to reflect on the previous months and an opportunity to begin strategizing for 2018; what needs to evolve; what needs to improve; what is working and what is not, are familiar questions that all organisations, large or small, ask themselves as year-end approaches.

For most businesses, growth often tops the priority list and team changes and streamlining efforts are put in place in hopes to achieve this goal. As companies focus on expanding their operations, however, corporate culture begins to fade as the focus shifts from people to profit. Corporate culture often takes significant time and effort to build and is usually easier to achieve while the business is small. Capable owners and top-level management recognise the importance of retaining the same cultural core values that have been responsible for propelling them to new found heights as this will help maintain the momentum for many years to come.

At its core, corporate culture can be defined as a shared sentiment of values, attitudes and beliefs among employees that are aligned with the company’s strategy and goals. Corporate culture is important because it helps shape corporate identity and establish values, which, in turn, solidify principles and philosophies.

Market research has shown that a strong company culture is the number one thing millennials look for in an organisation when seeking employment. This means companies that have managed to retain their company culture, despite accelerated growth, are able to attract and retain talented employees. When eyes are on the target, however, how do you ensure that corporate culture is not compromised in the process?

Creating a corporate culture of open communication is crucial in creating an atmosphere where feedback and collaboration is encouraged. An open-door policy demonstrates to people that you are eager to listen, are willing to address problems and, above all, care about your employees. Research has shown that effective two-way communication at work facilitates increased job satisfaction and empowerment; two critical components to a healthy company culture.

Furthermore, when employees are encouraged to speak freely, managers and owners can establish a pulse measuring the strength and any shifts in the corporate culture allowing them to react swiftly to keep the culture in place.

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Core values are fundamental principles that encompass a business from the top down and serve as a guide to action during daily decision making, policy creation or recruitment. Questions I ask myself include: “If I were to start something new tomorrow, in a different field or industry, would I be able to build the same core values? Would they still be relevant?” The answer should always be yes. Core values that are built from the ground up and implemented from the top down are relevant in any company or organisation, in any industry, at any time.

Of all values, two that stand out are accountability and innovation.

Accountability is highly desired yet seldom achieved, by managers and business owners alike. This is often because employees of organisations that are solely profit driven, and have not implemented a people oriented culture, are typically held hostage by hostile and competitive working environments. This breeds an atmosphere where open dialogue and communication is discouraged, resulting in the fear of negative consequence when mistakes are made or commitments are not met.

Corporate cultures that foster accountability encourage employees to engage more often, leading to increased job satisfaction and performance. Engaged employees are self-reliant, require less supervision and more likely to contribute in an innovative manner. This brings me to the next core value; innovation.

Innovation breeds entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship fosters empowerment. Empowered employees are able to make individual decisions with confidence and understand that they are in control of their own success. An innovative culture also opens opportunities for business expansion by giving employees the opportunity to make their ideas a reality. The greatest businesses of the past decade have been the results of innovation and creation, demonstrating the value of providing employees at all levels with the time, resources and opportunity to create. However, this core value is heavily dependent on other core values, such as accountability and open communication models, as these build confidence - a prerequisite for innovation.

Being in the employment industry for over 16 years, I am in the business of people and I have seen that no organisation can create a sustainable work culture without people who are ready to embrace it. It all begins with hiring the right people who can carry the culture forward. Consider incorporating the company culture throughout the recruitment cycle to allow new hires to familiarise themselves with desired behaviours and attitudes. Also look out for candidates who already demonstrate aspects of the corporate culture to make sure they will be a good fit with the rest of the team.

One question that remains and is asked by owners and managers alike is: How do you know if you have instilled the company culture that you have set out to create? The former chief executive of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, has an answer: “Culture is what happens when nobody is looking.” That is a brilliant response.

Sanjay Modi is the managing director for Apac and the Middle East at Monster.com