Corporate culture can reshape a firm's future

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2007, 12:00am

An organisation's corporate culture directly affects its performance. The constant challenge for organisations to react nimbly to the ever-changing business environment means it is crucial they keep their corporate culture primed to support their strategic development.

Failure to do so can lead to lost opportunities and profits. If corporate culture is substantially out of kilter with an organisation's business strategies there can be a grave undermining of competitiveness or sustainability.

Reshaping corporate culture is usually the most effective solution to such a problem, but is no easy task in itself and carries considerable sensitivity as it primarily involves changing attitudes and mindsets which are notoriously inflexible. This type of exercise also tends to be meticulous and intricate, and needs to be well planned with full participation by staff and management to succeed, according to the Hong Kong Productivity Council's (HKPC) senior consultant Philippe Tang King-wai.

Speaking recently at seminar, 'Striving for Business Excellence via Culture Reshape', jointly organised by HKPC and the Classified Post, Mr Tang said effective culture reshaping needed to have a lucid target, and be comprehensively researched, carefully measured, and implemented with a clear direction. He said the efforts would pay off in the long term.

'There are ample research findings abroad to show that companies with a strong, befitting corporate culture perform better in terms of productivity, profitability, stock prices, employment growth, employee satisfaction and commitment. They also do better in attracting quality staff and retaining them,' he said.

'This shows that the corporate culture can be a great competitive strength if it is consistent with an organisation's objectives and strategies.'

Mr Tang said that different barriers including conservative mindsets, resistance to change, staff inertia and under-communication might sabotage culture reshaping initiatives, and a customised plan with suitable tactics was needed for the unique circumstances of each organisation.

The key common objectives of such plans would be to facilitate attitudinal change through learning, stimulate staff innovation and participation, and ensure clear communication of cultural objectives and strategies to all concerned.

HKPC has devised a culture reshape model featuring a thorough, step-by-step approach for re-engineering organisational mindsets and behaviour according to strategic development needs. The model, in four stages, employs comprehensive groundwork research, surveys and interactive focus groups to identify an organisation's strategic needs and match them with the 'cultural DNA'.

'We will ask the top management what the organisation's strategic direction is, and where they see performance falling short of expectations,' Mr Tang said. 'We will also canvass the views of staff from different levels to map out what the existing culture is like and what transformation is required to strengthen the essential core values and develop the desired cultural attributes.'

The foundation thus laid, a representative body will be formed to set out a culture reshape road map and steer the exercise through to completion.

'Different methods can be used to entrench the desired behaviour. For example, there may be monthly or periodic cultural themes with set objectives and achievement targets. Staff, rather than being told what they should do, should be allowed to develop the desired behaviour through practice. They will be more ready to embrace the changes this way.'

The final phase of the model focuses on continuous reinforcement and culture measurement to ensure sustainable change and benefits. Examples of commonly used reinforcement tools include workplace paraphernalia such as corporate screensavers, mouse pads, posters, newsletters, videos and CD-Roms, communication-enhancing measures such as a dedicated e-mail channel to the top management or periodic meetings with the CEO. Mr Tang said purpose-designed tools such as experiential activities, team building and experience sharing workshops might also be organised.

Time for change

A culture reshape programme helps align an organisation's corporate culture with its strategic development needs to facilitate good performance

Custom designed for individual organisations, such programmes re-engineer corporate culture by changing mindsets and behaviour through learning, participation and communication

Full participation by staff and management is essential

Continuous reinforcement, measurement and monitoring

are required to sustain desired cultural changes