Culture: A Hard or Soft Business Element?
On one hand, culture appears to be too full of fluff for some leaders. Phrases like, “I’m not here to make friends, I have a business to run!” come to mind. On the other hand, phrases like “Our culture drives productivity, great customer service, and that grows profits.” might waft through the corporate rafters. So which is it? Is culture a hard or soft business element? In a word, yes. Culture is a two headed monster that dares you to wrestle with it…and wrestle with it you must.
Neglecting culture is like failing to feed a caged monster. One day, it will break loose and eat you alive and have your business for dessert. Culture has come to be defined as “The way we do things around here.” There is another saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” However, in the face of necessary business change, not making the changes won’t get you what you’ve always got, business will change, but for the worse. In other words, current operational processes, policies, and principles need to change in order to meet current market needs.
In the face of change businesses do one of two things:
1. They don’t change the way they operate. The culture remains intact.
2. They change the way they operate, but fail to make appropriate changes. The culture changes in the wrong direction.
But back to the monster’s two faces. Considering the soft business element of culture, one of the “expressions” of this face is ethics. Needless to say there have been many unethical business cultures that have brought business failure such as Enron, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers, the list goes on worldwide. Other “expressions” include treating employees fairly, addressing sexual harassment, and good hiring practices to name a few. Failure to address issues surrounding these “soft” business elements can lead to an astronomical financial burden in the form of lawsuits. Other fallout can include the failure to attract the top talent you need to carry out business strategies.
Considering the “hard” face of culture are business strategies. Two examples illustrating taking inappropriate action are Firestone and Laura Ashley. When a French company introduced Michelin tires, Firestone made only minor changes to accommodate the better tire. On the other hand, they failed to take action by failing to close its factories still producing the old obsolete tires.
In the case of Laura Ashley, the business was built on a fashion trend it created in the 1970’s of flowery, flowing, and romantic outfits. Nothing is fickler than fashion. Women entered the workplace and flowing fashions didn’t fit the boardroom. The company did take action and went through a series of CEOs charged with changing strategy. Unfortunately, none of these CEOs took the strategy far enough and the company failed to properly identify who it was and the brand failed.
Failure to get to know the culture monster, its two faces, and the difference between the mayhem it can create for your business or the success it can offer, is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Not a good idea, you don’t have a face to spare.
Graphic Credit: BigStock.com Copyright: lady_in_red13