On Culture

Culture – do you trust yourself with it?

 Over the past weeks, I have had the opportunity of discussing culture with a number of people from a number of different businesses and across a range of industries.  They all agree that culture is important for the success of their business, but, across their variety of operations, they all have different views of it.

 Culture is something that is very hard to define.  I remember speaking with one of my crew about it a month or two ago.  They asked when I knew that the culture in our business was working.  My response was that I didn’t – but I knew when it wasn’t!

 Culture is something that, when it is working, you don’t notice.  It happens and, in some respects, manages itself (more on that later).  It is something that a lot of businesses talk about: “we have a great culture” or “our culture’s great”.  With respect, when I hear that from a number of business owners/managers, I am somewhat sceptical.

 In many respects, culture is created by the people in your business – after all, they’re the ones who represent your business to each other and to your customers.  The way they talk about your business and their role in it speaks volumes about their level of engagement with the business and consequently, your customers.

 Over the years, we have worked on developing a culture in our business which is based on our values (you can see them on our website) – we make sure we “walk the talk”.  Unfortunately, I find that a lot of businesses talk the talk “we’re honest and trust each other and our customers” but won’t walk the talk (assess their staff on timesheets and write up bills for customers).

 In a discussion today with one of my senior technical people, we discussed the different cultures that they had seen and experienced in their career to date.  Their view was that their experience in our business was one where they were trusted, respected and free to practice their profession as they saw fit.  We provide an environment for them to thrive and be their best.  They see themselves as supported and able to develop their skills and abilities and also follow their areas of interest.

 Having been in another accounting business before us, they see their move as very positive – and it’s all due to the culture.

 We have been fortunate enough to be able to recruit and retain fabulous people over the years.  They’re terrific people and contribute in a variety of ways to each other and to the business.  They have wonderful relationships with their customers and have a level of engagement and trust with them that a lot of professional firms would love to have.  I believe this all comes down to culture.

 Stephen M R Covey wrote “The Speed of Trust” which encapsulates the benefits of positive culture well – when trust is high, speed of transaction is high and cost is low.  When trust is low, speed of transaction is low and cost is high.  I suppose the best way of demonstrating this is where you get in to a legal dispute – they generally come about because trust is lost, and we all know how expensive they can be.

 To move to a culture where you can free you people (and yourself), you need to demonstrate trust (not just talk about it).  Trust your people and let them show you and their colleagues that they are worthy of that trust – don’t micro-manage them.  If they need to be micro-managed, you might just need to look at your recruitment process!  You’re probably the issue….

 Over many years, I have found that people want to go a good job, take pride in their work, be appreciated for their contribution and to feel that they have made a difference.  Once they are in this “zone”, they will treat their colleagues with the same level of trust and they will respect each other enough to be open when the team doesn’t perform to the accepted level.  In effect, they become a self-managing team.  Isn’t this what a profession is all about?  AND, you don’t need to manage them.

 I must admit that I have made mistakes with recruitment over the years.  Big egos generally don’t work well in a team environment (unless they are reasonably emotionally aware), destabilisers don’t work (at all – they’re just plain dangerous), self-interested people don’t work (they’re too focussed on themselves) and people who are simply in the wrong roles won’t work.

 To be incredibly harsh, the list above is one which can be used to describe the owners/managers of a number of businesses (especially professional businesses) that I have seen – they are ego-centric hoarders of glory who believe they need to divide to conquer.  There are a great many exceptions to this generalisation – and I apologise to them.

 Culture needs to be very clearly delineated in the mind of the custodian of the business.  It is not about them, it’s about what they can help their people to be.  It’s like a surgeon – if they’re not working, they’re not earning.  To enable your business to earn without you, you need to develop a culture that is based on trust.  Then you need to walk the talk.

 So, do you trust your people – and most especially yourself – to develop the culture you’ve always wanted?

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