Overt behaviour determines the actual guiding principles of a business community. Remember that alarming statistic we hear in presentation skills training - only 7 per cent of what people take in is from what you say, the rest comes from body language, voice tone and behaviour. This is how principles are born - through the day-to-day behaviour of the significant leaders and influencers.
Great companies ensure that behaviour matches words. They strive constantly to be congruent with their principles. This is a major thrust of the great company concept - be congruent. At St Luke's when people working on the Hub - their term for ‘reception' - spoke to Neil, the MD, about a lack of respect from some colleagues, the word was sent out through the community. As everyone become more aware, the behaviour changed. In most companies this would have been ignored, or worse, never known, until the receptionist left, allowing the behaviour to persist. Addressing it directly strengthens the culture - every time good intentions are followed through in behaviour, the message gets stronger.
However, there are many financially successful companies that do not have great company cultures, even though they behave in ways that are congruent with their principles. Success lies in congruence; the added factor of greatness lies in the intention behind the principles themselves.
The production of a healthy bottom line is key to the value set of those who define success as profit. They also recognise that people are vital to the process - after all, a company is only a collection of people - so this will be included in the list of principles. So far so good.
The intention that underpins the culture of the company often shows only in the balance and order of the specific principles, making clear where the priorities lie. Financially successful companies put healthy profit/bottom line at the top of the list; great companies make people the headline.
The basic assumptions that underpin this ordering are fundamental to the concept of great company culture. Where money is the priority, the individual is more highly prized; where people are the priority, the success of the company is highly prized by everyone, bringing greater power to bear on the job at hand. But it does require the guts to go against the norms of our present society. See Table 2.
‘Me + You' Principles
Right people fit
Good financial results
Stock market happy
People valued for what they bring
Commitment depends on career prospects
Good customer service for business reasons
Recruitment at any level of the company
Belonging limited to personal friendships in company
Career development based on needs of CV
Look after self in tough times
Personal development may be risky
Good financial results
Stock market happy
People valued for who they are
Commitment is to well-being of company
Excellent customer service from the heart
Recruitment mostly at entry level
Strong sense of belonging - ‘this is my family'
Career development in-house
Look after each other in tough times
Personal development valued
Poor people fit
Employer of last resort
Feedback/appraisal is low priority and indirect
Poor work may be tolerated, to avoid giving honest feedback
Person left in the same job or put into a backwater
If the right job does not exist, the person is left where they are
Business changes are used as an opportunity to remove poor performers
Feedback/appraisal is high priority and honest
Poor work is identified and addressed immediately
Right job is sought for the person, to ensure that they can give of their best
If the right job does not exist, the person is asked to leave
Any leavers are dealt with as well as possible, out of respect
The central question is: why do we go to work in the first place? Money is a key driver, answering the need for home, warmth, food, and safety. We have all experienced feeling insecure in some way or other - some unfortunately with a greater degree of urgency than others. Facing the loss of job and money raises fear and panic; it touches the raw nerve that ensures survival of the race. This alone is enough to take most of us to work each day.
However, once that basic need is answered, other elements kick in. There is little worse than a boring job or a bully boss. Once we know we can eat, it is natural to look for human warmth from those around you - and let's face it, we spend a good portion of our lives at work, so a sterile or hostile environment is not conducive to a good life.
John and James Timpson know the importance of providing a good income for their staff, so they have built a business culture where each colleague can earn more through their own endeavours. Yet they also realise the importance of respect and fun in the workplace. To take account of this they expect all managers to know their staff well - and they model it themselves. They further ensure times of fun and celebration by funding a hearty bar bill at regular intervals - the source of a great time in the Timpson culture. The payback is worth its weight in gold, never mind pints - people are totally committed to the company and strive to do their best work.
There is a third desire in human beings and that is to achieve our best. How ‘best' is defined will determine whether work plays a part in achieving this fundamental urge. Maslow called it the drive for self-actualisation. The rest of us talk about the sense of achievement and satisfaction when we surpass expectations and experience the strengthening of self-esteem that goes with success. Put this into the equation and work takes on a different hue.
Take my writing this book. The dream of writing sat idly in the back of my mind for a long time. Then came a discussion with Emma, a young manager in a large blue-chip company, charged with the task of creating a great place to work. In our conversation it became clear there was little information to help her know where to start, and we agreed a first-stage road map was the missing link. I did not know how or what, but I did know I had at least to try.
There followed two years of brewing, researching, and learning about publishers and what would give most benefit to the reader. Then came the task of focusing on the words themselves. I have learned so much about single-mindedness, determination, commitment; I have also made new friends, stretched my thinking, been delighted and utterly frustrated all at once. As the end draws near, I have done more than I ever thought I could do, and have developed as a result. And hopefully you will do the same - by my stretching, I can help you stretch, which will help others to stretch. This is what self-actualisation is about - discovering our own potential and enabling others in the process.
These different drivers determine how much we put into work, and the effectiveness of a company culture is determined by how high the company aims, both for its own sake and for the sake of the people.
In the distant past of management theories, McGregor spoke of Theory X, a management style built on the assumption that no one wants to work for the sake of it. The only reason for working is because you have to earn enough money to provide safety and social acceptance. Belief in this demands a particular style of management. People must be given rules and directions to follow: they should not be trusted to do the right thing unless watched over - they will give only what they are told to give, and the ‘extra mile' is a matter of compulsion. Essentially, they will do a job for the sake of the money alone without commitment or loyalty to the company.
This description may sound extreme and outdated, but there are companies and managers who still hold this view, although probably not entirely consciously. It will be held in the principles of ‘put the company first', punitive reactions to mistakes, redundancy as first call when the market shows signs of strain, horror stories of sacking by text message.
Low-trust cultures are based on the assumption that people will look out only for number one. Of course, the irony is that they also create the behaviour they are concerned about - it is a process of wish-fulfilment. If a company assumes you are not to be trusted, you either look after yourself regardless or you leave. The end result is the culture the leaders expect. The real pity is that low-trust cultures create high costs. Research done by an American national construction research organisation, the Construction Industry Institute, shows that projects in which there is a low level of trust incurred expenses that could have been avoided. The knock-on impact of time to check up on people, greater levels of hierarchy and prolonged decision-making added a significant amount to the bottom line. (See slide 7 in the ‘Business case/evidence' presentation, Appendix 3.)
As a comparison, consider what McGregor called Theory Y management, later converted by Maslow to a more rounded Theory Z and recently put into practice by Ricardo Semler at Semco and outlined in his book The Seven-Day Weekend. Both are based on the assumption that work is as natural a part of life as rest and play; that people will seek responsibility when they feel committed and involved; and that commitment comes not from fear but from reward, especially the intangible rewards of appreciation and achievement. Maslow added to this the recognition that people want to be creative, proud of what they do, and to make a difference. He would have made a great company leader!
Put that into the work setting and the job of management is quite different. Colleagues need guidelines, not rules. They benefit from encouragement, development and celebration of achievement. Above all they need an environment in which they can explore their potential. The business that provides this level of interest and stimulation is rewarded with high levels of commitment and the benefit of all that creativity and enthusiasm. And, when lined up with the appropriate business strategy, this brings a direct benefit to the bottom line.
The Construction Industry Institute research demonstrates this with hard fact - high-trust cultures in project teams brought a reduction of direct costs. When people are trusted to do the best for the business, there is less need for surveillance and monitoring, and colleagues keep a close eye on expense because they feel part of the company and want to do the most effective job they can.