Culture or more precisely work culture is an edifice upon which organizations are built. Since it is so critical, it must have ownership, within the organization. Therefore culture in any organisation should be the responsibility of which division or individual? Of late, we are witnessing that to broaden the hierarchical structure there has been a growing number of managers, who have become part of what is now popularly known as the “C Suite” executives. So today, the technology person is called CIO, (chief information officer), the compliance officer is the CCO (chief compliance officer), etc.
The word ‘chief’ has been prefixed to every conceivable position. Until about two decades back, there was just a chief executive officer (CEO) or at most additionally there used to be COO, the chief operating officer. Corporate culture, like any other reputational aspect, showed be assigned to whom? The CEO or the COO; or else should the responsibility be assigned to all the “chief” prefixed managers.
Alternatively should we assign the responsibility and have a newly created position like any other corporate position and title it as; chief culture officer”! I know of at least one corporate entity that has a formally designated, position of “chief reputation officer”. Old wine in a new bottle. Mostly, there is no new wine or thought, it is essentially management of image, not by holding to values of universal nature, but by propaganda and deception.
Should therefore the CEO only be responsible for the organisation's culture? My take on he subject is, no. It should be the singular responsibility of the human resource division. A Single bad fish spoils the pond. Every single hiree is a potential risk that can demolish the edifice of any good corporate culture. So, if there is flawed selection and hiring process, no development of proper culture can ever be ensured. Hiring the best from the best and not the best from the worst should be the cornerstone of any hiring policy.
An organisation builds its corporate culture by enunciating its core values. I haven’t in my study of organisations come across any principles and core values to be in conflict with basic standards of human behavior, that are acceptable across all geographies, societies, culture, creed, etc. Therefore for any employee to fall in line, with strict adherence to corporate values is not difficult, unless the first mistake of wrong hiring has been done. I have in these columns in the past seven odd years been writing about, hiring for attitude and training for skill and not to follow a hiring policy that is vice-versa.
No corporate culture can develop or sustain itself, if it is meant for lip-service. Even external surveys are not fully dependable. The trade-off between ‘fees paid’ for the survey and the generated results, sometimes become the mutually acceptable” mixed pie” to devour upon. All is made to look good. Such engagements surveys serve no purpose. To this thought and methodology the icing on the cake is to “buy” an award for “best corporate culture”. Many uncouth institutions offer such packages, and many organisation, actually fall for it.
To dismay, many amongst the management cadre are people who are akin to an attitude of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. They ride on two horses. Mostly fence sitters, who decide, once they are sure about which way the wind will blow.
It is therefore imperative that all members find themselves as forebears of their organisations corporate values. The application in day to day work of these high sounding words is the test. If to an outsider, these are not seen and visible, their culture has failed in practice and is only meant to be “framed” for adoring the walls of the office.
The culture is representative of the personality of the organisation. It is the sum total of behavior displayed by its work-force in their inter-face, both within and outside the organisation. If the leadership of a country or a corporate is corrupt, it is foolish to expect that the society prevailing under their nose, will be of the saintly and the angelic. It is and will be far more corrupt than the rulers. The same principle holds good for corporate entities. If the top management cadre accepts the bending or breaking of principles to suit business expediency, they will stand deprived of the moral courage to talk about honesty, trust, reliability, sincerity and all such type of traits.
It is extremely important for seniors to be true embodiments of what they pronounce as culture, principles or core values; and if they don’t they lose authority to be verbose, on any aspect of ethics based corporate culture. If the upper waters are clean, the water beneath till the bed will always be clear, clean and pure.
Human resources should serve as the ‘culture committee’ of any organisation, while admittedly ice melts from the top, so there is responsibility upon the board of directors to satisfy itself that when they appoint a person as “CEO”, not only, that he believes in the organisation’s core values but will be a person who will pursue it further through visible action.
The boards fail too! Why? Because those who constitute the board could be non-subscribers to basic human values and sentiments. If such be the case, the corrupt will choose the corrupt. Aren’t we witnessing each day how the state institutions have been ripped apart, because those who appoint the ‘custodians’ to an institution are personally corrupt. Some organisations have no grief in “serving humanity” with ill-gotten money. Such may consider themselves as modern day ‘Robin Hood’; but they are not that ….. because Robin did not leave behind estates, riches ,palaces and account balances for Marian, Little John, or friar Tuck, etc.
If the government has Robin Hoods, so do corporate too! How can therefore be any talk of good governance. It is futile to talk about the ocean to the frog of the pond. In some cases even the honor amongst thieves is absent. Truth is buried, in some cases.
Our founding fathers were absolutely clear about their own responsibility towards creation of culture. The lives of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan are beacons of light, for uprightness and devotion to the reverence of the office held.
The Nawabzada in his address to the US Senate in may, 1950, had said, “Time honored maxims and hallowed principles embodied in a constitution (read corporate values) are of little validity, unless a nation (read organization) feels that it possess spiritual strength to live up to them, unless they (read workforce) echo the voice that is heard unflatteringly in the innermost recesses of its soul”. As managers let’s do some soul searching, do we imbibe the values we talk about or instead spend massive sums and precious time in selecting the frame, for those values to be presented on the walls, with no intent to inculcate, follow or adhere.
Hiring impacts the most upon organisational culture and personality. Select good people. Make them honest and incorruptible by sheer hard work and training; expectation to make the fraudster, a honest and competent individual is a Himalayan task. Sages and Nobles have failed. Try the easy route, first; to get good culture in place hire, the best.
The writer is a freelance columnist