I agree with almost all of what Ken Polotan says in this nice article. In fact the words and phrases he has used throughout are those I have been using for the past ten years in the articles I have written and talks I have made. However, I question his assertion that company culture is determined in the boardroom.

It is my belief that culture is more than skin deep and as such is the consensus of internal stakeholders, if not the wider brand community. In fact, I’d go further and say that a culture decided by the boardroom isn’t sustainable in many situations, especially where the business is going through transformation.

The biggest mistake an organisation can make is to concoct a culture to suit, what they see as a target audience. Apart from smacking of dictatorship, which certainly doesn’t work in the digital paradigm, it’s shallow, and insincere and any business trying this will be found out and punished. Even a culture whose values are genuinely those of the board isn’t going to work unless the stakeholders responsible for representing it share it with equal passion. If they don’t the customer experience will be inconsistent and will not live up to expectation, which is, in itself a recipe for disaster.

A business culture is the sum of its parts. In this case its brand community, which Ken recognises comprises employees, investors, suppliers, distributors and customers, every one of whom, by the very fact of their membership, has an influence the culture. You may be able to convince internal stakeholders that the culture the boardroom has chosen to represent is the right one; although, in the case of a transformation rather than a start-up this is unlikely, but it isn’t sustainable.

If your brand community don’t genuinely share the values and beliefs that determine your culture they are not going to commit whole-heartedly to the process of transformation. This being so, the process will be slow and inefficient and in most cases, as we see today, because organisations that haven’t already brought their transformation over the line are pretty well out of time, it will end in failure.

I’ve witnessed a business, where the values dictated by the ageing principle were at odds with the largely millennial employee base, fail in its attempts to transform a s a consequence. While it may be feasible when you are starting from scratch with a new business, to set out your culture stall and attract like-minded employees, I can’t see how once a business is established the boardroom can dictate a culture anything other than the genuine sum of the stakeholders values and beliefs.

Successful transformations start with a brand model, which includes a definition of the organisations culture determined through a discovery process which, if it’s worth anything, will have canvassed the opinions of, at least, internal stakeholders, who, after all, are going to be the people representing it where it counts – at the point of contact with customers.

First published on LinkedIn April 2018

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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