The culture dividend

Whenever I’m introduced to a new business concept, I ask ‘who’s the beneficiary?’ This is because I’m less interested in creativity, more motivated by relevant innovation. For example, if my opinion is sought on a piece of advertising I ask, ‘Who is the target audience?’ Without this context, I would be hard-pressed to say anything more profound than ‘I like it’ or ‘make the logo bigger’ or ‘that elephant looks cute.’

When it comes to culture transformation, it’s just as important to identify the beneficiaries of organisational change. If I look back thirty years, the answer would generally have been ‘the company owners’. In companies created by entrepreneurial individuals, the habit used to be trying to create a company culture that reflected their personalities and values. Sometimes this was a good thing, but at other times this led to a degree of self-satisfaction that was unattractive. And the propensity for self-delusion was huge because even the harshest of employers likes to consider himself a benevolent patriarch.

Twenty years ago, the term General Manager was supplanted by Managing Director, which in turn gave way to Chief Executive Officer.  As organisational aspirations grew, their cultures were adjusted to flatter the ego of the business leader. Whatever was being written about leadership in Harvard Business Review, or studied at London Business School, then you can be sure that local employees were heavily dosed with it. Regardless of the relevance of global (western) trends to the realities of running businesses in Africa.

But in better-led companies, that change also brought about a more thoughtful focus on the customer. Questioning whether Customer Service was really enough, or whether a more clearly defined Customer Experience was what we should all be aiming for.

Ten years ago we saw the narrow parish of Personnel Management broaden to consider the employee as a person rather than a numbered component. Since then, some of our Human Resource professionals have evolved into Talent Managers, dedicated to offering careers over jobs and growing employee talents to meet future business needs.

So we have now reached the point where companies that have been through this evolution are ready to enumerate the benefits of a carefully curated organisational culture. The primary beneficiaries of this will be customers, if employee behaviour has been aligned to the promise being made by the brand. Secondary beneficiaries will be employees, who now know how to bring the brand to life in their daily work and understand where they fit in. Then the CEO and shareholders can take their share of the credit; enjoying deserved recognition and better commercial returns.