Creating a vibrant workplace culture is tricky in a technology-driven world, but it can be done.
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Organisational culture. Get it right and you’ve got a dedicated team of employees aligned with your business values, goals and motivations. Get it wrong and you’ve got a cultural disaster waiting to happen, Uber style.
It’s been hard to miss Uber's problems; a company plagued by cultural issues, in-house chaos and uncontrollable organisational culture, which has resulted in a multitude of serious cases being played out across the media.
Changing a company’s culture is rightly regarded as a daunting task by many. The fear of getting it wrong can be crippling.
Part of the problem no doubt lies in the rather slippery nature of “culture” itself. The English Oxford dictionary defines culture as ‘the attitudes… the ideas, customs, and behaviour of a particular social group.” A tricky concept to grasp indeed.
Culture is fluid, constantly changing and dynamic. So how exactly can one go about creating this seemingly intangible ideal? Who is responsible for the change? And how can you ensure that this culture stays strong when, as Uber did, you go from start-up to SME to… who knows what’s next?
Organisational culture and leadership has been of interest to scientists as well as managers for several decades. Studying and understanding organisational culture requires an inter-disciplinary approach; this brings and knowledge together from the realms of sociology, psychology, economics and management.
Uber faces a challenge creating a vibrant company culture
It may be useful here to employ rhizomatic thought to help further explain the complexities of organisational culture. A rhizome, a continuously growing horizontal underground stem which sends out shoots and roots can help us better understand the ways in which an organisation “thinks” or “acts”.
Instead of thinking about culture solely coming from the top down, creating a trickle effect, it makes better sense to understand the culture being embedded laterally or horizontally, across any hierarchies.
Attempting to drive culture from the top down can result in catastrophic miscommunication and misunderstandings. The rhizome “has no beginning or end, but always a middle from which it grows and which it overspills” – this echoes the fact that it is the people not a singular person within an organisation who make the culture.
Key features of the rhizome are its connectivity and heterogeneity. You can’t expect to define and drive a culture without engaging with your employees to find out what they think. When people are the lifeblood of your business, you must ensure that they’re engaged from the outset if they’re to contribute to its success.
You need ask employees what they want and listen to their answers. Get them involved and see if they’ve got any ideas. If a workforce feels like they’re making a difference, they’ll be a lot more invested in what an organisation is trying to achieve.
Help them to feel connected to the decision makers, to the company values and to the changes that are being implemented. You need to work with the wider team if you want to create a well-built organisational culture to translate into a significant competitive advantage for your company.
While it’s clear that no singular person can transform the culture of a business, there is truth in fresh blood being an agent of change. Business leaders play a big part when it comes to driving transformation, of whatever nature.
I joined Platinum Facilities and Maintenance Services in 2008 as operations director. Back then, the market perceived us as a traditional FM hard services provider; perhaps a little too conservative, too risk-adverse and inflexible.
A lot of that perception stemmed from our company image and our culture at that time. When I became managing director in 2013, we instigated a company-wide call for change.
This shift in management structure offered us the opportunity to take stock and have a think about how we wanted to operate in order to freshen up our image.
Myself, along with other leaders, set out to achieve this and, thankfully, there was a collective willingness, which rippled throughout the business, to shake things up a bit.
Communication is key to a better company culture
We did so by reaching out to our employees, establishing a dialogue and involving the wider Platinum community with the decision-making process. As such, we’ve become more flexible and people-focused with a softer and more modern feel.
That transformation has happened through change in company structure and the consenting agreement across levels to reform our image. Many people use the terms manager and leader interchangeably.
But in the context of culture, it is important to distinguish between the two: managers are appointed and hold authority in the formal sense. Conversely, leaders may either be appointed or emerge from a group of employees, and they can influence others in more nuanced ways.
Uber’s troubles are a case in point of what can happen to an organisation if its leadership teams fail to instill a tight company culture. Culture should permeate a business and ooze out of its seams, projecting an image to clients or consumers that reflects its values.
Through understanding business culture using the rhizome model, you can see how culture works via osmosis, being filtered through every level and every person who makes up your business.