Corporate Culture: a two-way street

By Mohamed Algarf & Shilpa Ajit, BMMI's Executive Assistant to the President & CEO and Information Analyst

At the core of every successful organisation is a culture that is able to support an environment where employees are empowered to be engaged and to passionately contribute.

As we experience this transitional and transformational period in our organisation’s history, with rapid expansion, growth and diversifying businesses, it’s crucial for us to look at how we can support and sustain the kind of culture that truly takes the organisation and its employees forward.

Culture is definitely a two-way street. We as employees need to work on building that culture, we can’t just wait for the company to give us a document and say ‘here you go’. At the same time, a company cannot expect for culture to just automatically take-off one day. An organisation needs to really engage its employees to truly live the right culture, as well as providing a platform for those employees who are already on the right track to help bring their colleagues on board.

We truly see this as our biggest challenge at the moment. It all boils down to this: without truly engaged employees, you will never have truly engaged customers. But achieving a culture that helps employees thrive and be fully engaged is no easy feat. Since culture is a two-way street, both the organisation and the employees themselves have a role to play.

Starting with the company, there’s a few things that can be done to better facilitate achieving this culture. First of all, it needs to be a major priority. This means looking at everything through the lens of our culture and making sure that what we see fits. It’s true that in every company there will be a percentage of employees that just see their job as a means to make money, nothing more. They might in fact be even contributing to the company’s profits in one way or the other.

But the truth is, if this percentage of disengaged employees who do not display the behaviours that go with our culture are not dealt with swiftly, they will affect our most important asset: passionate, engaged and motivated employees who truly care and want to make a difference.

In the long term, it’s the second percentage of employees, our culture-advocates, who will truly take the organisation to new heights. This is because the work they do is done out of passion, out of care, out of motivation, out of wanting to prove themselves. They are the only ones who will go the extra mile to make sure things are not just done, but are done right, in a way that is beneficial to the company, as well as their own personal development and that of their colleagues.

Negativity, a horrible attitude, sheer indifference or disregard for culture can be contagious and extremely damaging. By not getting rid of the people who do not truly live and breathe our culture, we might create an environment where those previously engaged might become disillusioned. As they say, one bad apple can spoil the whole basket. There’s no bigger loss than that.

This also means you need to make sure that any new joiners to the organisation are selected based on their alignment with our culture. With rapid expansion, and a need for talent, sometimes urgently, we could fall into the trap of just filling up positions. But true recruitment based on cultural integration takes time, you need to hire people who will be propelling you forward in the bigger picture, rather than holding the rest of your employees back with their clear disregard to your culture.

Another important thing is creating the means for flexible innovation. Creativity is absolutely crucial to building a sense of community and bolstering our culture. Think of that amazing synergy and motivation that can come out of informal meetings, where people are specifically given the freedom to be creative and randomly collaborate. Sometimes we tend to fall in the trap of being too task oriented, but that could limit us in a way.

As an example, imagine an office library in the building, filled with management books, books about corporate culture, books about leadership, where you can take a break, sink into a comfortable couch and just soak in information. Now think of meeting like-minded people in the library - who knows what brilliant ideas might come up when you start chatting? As an organisation, having the flexibility for innovation and creativity could really help boost your culture, idea sharing and collaboration.

Employees have a huge responsibility too, which is self-governance and authentic passion. We have the responsibility to behave in the manner that fits, furthers and promotes our culture. This applies to our actions, the information we use and share and whatever we do for our job. We need to be accountable.

Passionate and engaged employees truly think of their company as their family and go over and beyond what they are required to do. Some people might not see it this way, but think about this: if you view your colleagues as members of your family, you will be responsible and accountable. Who wouldn’t do that for their family at home? You spend a huge chunk of your life at work, why wouldn’t you approach your second home the same way?

Of course, this will never work if you are not experiencing authentic passion. If you are disengaged, you are more likely to be bored, stressed out or even depressed. When you’re motivated, you wake up every morning excited to come to work. You love what you do. The sheer lack of passion can make life seem so boring, almost as if you’re wasting everything away. Don’t you owe yourself better than that?

We really think it’s not just about the company but it’s also about you. If you do not feel that spark, that passion to push yourself to your limits and beyond to contribute, then you are not in the right place. A part of self-governance is realising when you’re no longer working passionately, when you are not bringing the unique ‘you’ to work and contributing in the way only you can. If you’re not feeling this, it’s time to look for your passion elsewhere.

Building, spreading and sustaining the kind of culture needed to make sure every single employee is engaged is a tremendous task. It will need much effort from the organisation and from employees, as well as constant reassessment of where we stand and how we can improve. But it’s worth it. We should strive to have every single one of us come into work feeling passionately invigorated to carry the organisation they love to new heights.