A long term client of mine was recently “promoted” into a new role within a highly prominent publicly listed company. It should have been a crowning glory within his career; a high point for him after 20 years of post-graduate slog. He is now in a position to be the next CEO and, given the present CEO is actively talking about retirement, this should be in the not too distant future. However, my client sounded anything but buoyant after week one in his new role. In fact, he sounded broken and despondent. When I pressed him as to what had left him feeling so low, he simply responded and told me that the culture of his newly inherited division was “rotten”.
So, what does culture actually mean in a business sense? For me, it was best summed up by a sign that was on the wall in my first role in the recruitment sector; the way we do things around here. In my opinion, this simple phrase sums up what culture actually means and gives a measure as to what is a good and bad business culture.
My client walked straight into his new role and within a week was convinced that his team had a poor and destructive culture. He raised four specific issues that led him to believe that the culture was not going to aid high performance:
- There was a genuine lack of trust. By day two, he had all seven of his direct reports whinge about the performance of their peers. He could not believe the back stabbing behaviour that was prominent at senior management level
- Turnover levels were extremely high. Of his seven direct reports, only one person had been there for over three months. There was no corporate library to speak of and most people were looking over their shoulders to protect their jobs.
- Sick leave levels were very high. The first sign of poor engagement levels tends to be increased sick leave and this division was rife with it. When he looked into it, leave was traditionally taken on a Monday or Friday as well.
- Finally, the hours of work were an issue. My client had led a division where people worked based on the outcome they were looking to achieve. If it took 70 hours per week or 30 hours per week it did not matter. However, this division was famous for a mass walk out at 5.00pm on the dot with people packing up a full half hour before. God forbid anyone worked beyond knock off time, irrespective if the goals had been met or not.
So, it’s fair to say that my client has a lot of work to do in order to build a proper productive corporate culture. He spoke with me today and bounced around some ideas that he was planning to implement and here is a snapshot of what he was going to do:
- Try to promote corporate knowledge and share corporate information within the business and with key customers. He found that nobody had any history to fall back on and, because of this, there were no “fabric building” stories to be shared within the team. He needed to rebuild this and get people proud of where they worked.
- Do something! As silly as this sounds, he found that the division was suffering from acute “analysis paralysis” and people were actually looking for leadership. As he said, it didn’t actually matter too much what his first major decision was, it just had to be well thought out, visible and decisive.
- Plan for people. People needed to know that they were important and, as such, their performance was being managed and rewarded. In the past, nobody really cared about this and this led to a lack of care about performance. Individual, team, group and divisional plans were to be set with them all cascading into the overall corporate goal so that everybody could understand and share in the company goals.
- Sing from the same hymn sheet. My client felt as though there were multi agendas at force internally and that they were preventing optimum performance. With that said, the division had no real core values that were shared and promoted and as such, people were able to fragment. It really did not auger well for positive performance.
So, there is no doubt that my client has a massive challenge over the next six to twelve weeks in order to set the tone for a better business culture. He is, however, starting from a good position because his eyes are definitely open as to what needs to be done. I challenge you all to think about your corporate cultures right now; are they preventing quality performance?
Brad McMahon – Managing Director