J. N. Halm’s thoughts …The Chief Culture Officer : Manning the Driving Force


This is just the way we do things here. Do you think you can change anything here? You cannot come and change things around here? When did you come? Do you know how long we have been doing things like that?

When you hear statements and questions like these, you should know that you are dealing with one of the most powerful forces operating within any organisation—the culture. Organisational culture refers to the systems of beliefs and behaviours that distinguished one organisation from another. One of the best analogies is the parallel between an individual’s personality and organisational culture.

Organisational behaviour gurus, Professor Robert E. Quinn and Professor Kim S. Cameron at the University of Michigan describes four types of organisational cultures. These are the Clan, Adhocracy, Market, and Hierarchy.

As the name indicates, Clan-oriented organisations are like clans. The whole organization feels like one large family. More often such companies or organisations are set up by individuals with the fatherly or motherly kind of nature. In these organisations, majority of the senior managers are more like older siblings. New employees are welcomed, nurtured and groomed to follow the company culture.

These are the organisations where doing things as a family is promoted. A clan-oriented organisation that understands the importance of making its culture customer-centric is Airbnb. A look at the company’s San Francisco headquarters is enough to tell you the kind of culture that pertains in there. The open spaces and pantries that looks like home kitchens and meeting areas that look like living rooms are enough to make employees feel at home.

The second type of organisational culture is referred to as an Adhocracy. As the name implies, these organisations are those that do a lot of things with an ad-hoc nature. These are fast-moving organisations whose focus is on being the first to do things on the market. They are the innovative organisations that are at the leading edge of their industries.  Many hi-tech firms are by nature Adhocracies.

An example of an Adhocracy is Kayak, the travel search-engine operator. The company puts its free, open-concept office to customer-centric use by ensuring that every staff feels a need to personally engage with customers. It is said that at Kayak, every staff answers the phone to handle customer queries. In a sense, everyone in the company works in the ‘customer service department’. As a matter of fact, every employee in the company got in because others claimed that employee is the smartest person they knew.

Organisations with market-oriented cultures are mostly results-oriented. They are always on the lookout for what is going on in the market. They are highly competitive organisations that focus on how to beat the competition and lead the market. These companies put a lot of importance on industry awards and achievements.

The last group of organisations according to culture are hierarchy-oriented organisations. These are the highly structured organisations whose concentration is on doing things right. A lot of corporate behemoths are hierarchical by nature. Things are expected to follow a certain established order. A deviation from the established norm is mostly frowned and conservatism is the order of the day.

It is important to note that these categorisations are not cast in stone for each organisation. A single organisation can be any combination of cultures. However, it is its predominating culture that defines it.

Regardless of the type of culture, organisations acquire their distinctive cultures through a set number of ways. Among the many ways by which organisations acquire their respective cultures are the founders’ values. In other words, organisations normally take on the nature of the founders.

Another factor that determines organisational culture are the early values of the company—meaning the earliest days of the organisation are also key to the long-term identity and personality of the organisation. Cultures last long. Those first people brought into the company must be carefully selected because what they initiate, from Day 1, can become either a blessing along the way or a curse.

In talking about how to establish and perpetuate a culture within an organisation, it is important to note that the culture must resonate emotionally with employees for it to stay. Staff must feel good about the culture to carry it along.

Organisational cultures are very important for so many reasons. It is widely accepted that the causes of many of the things that we witness on the outside are due to things on the inside. In much the same ways, it has been argued that many of the challenges that organisations grapple with can be traced to the culture of the organisation.

For instance, it has been proven that organisational culture is key to the job satisfaction of employees. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Management Research revealed that organisational culture has a role to play in predicting the satisfaction of employees on the job. The dimensions of job satisfaction that the study looked at included the work itself, working conditions, salary, promotions and the immediate superior of the employee.

From the ongoing, it is clear that organisational culture can be a competitive advantage for a company or it can actually lead to its demise. Those blessed with the opportunity to start an organisation, or to be among the early employees of an organisation, have a duty therefore to ensure that they set about consciously putting together a culture that will serve the organisation well. The actions of these initial employees can be very far-reaching.

There are a number of powerful ways by which organisational culture influences the organisation going forward. One of them is that organisational culture goes a long way to affect the way new employees become enculturated in the organisation. When staff come in fresh, without any taint on their mind, it is organisational culture that eventually converts them over a certain period of time. What new employees see old staff doing is what the new staff eventually begin to do, if a conscious effort is not made to buck the trend.

Regardless of the type of culture an organisation possesses—be it hierarchical, adhocracy, clan-oriented or market-oriented—that organisational culture can always be customer-centric. Even a hierarchical culture, with all its religious adherence to structure and order can still put customers at the centre of its decisions.

Adhocracies can also ensure that all their decisions are centred around their customers. Their speed at decision making can be of immense benefit to customers. If a customer has a problem that needs an immediate solution, the speed with which adhocracies take decisions will be of help to the customer. Since adhocracies are very innovative they can always be on the lookout for ways by which to better serve their customers.

Clan-oriented organisational cultures can also be very beneficial for great customer service. The fellow feeling and camaraderie that such organisations possess within is a good foundation for building very strong relationship with customers. Clan-oriented organisations end up treating customers like family members. Finally, market-oriented cultures can also be very customer-centric, especially when they realise that the best way to dominate the market is through the quality of service an organisation provides to its customers.

With all that said, it can be argued that organisations with great customer service are those with great cultures. Great customer service is a symptom of great organisational cultures. When an organisation aligns its culture to the need to offer excellent service, that organisation is sure to win the hearts and pockets of its customers. This, by extension, means that when things go wrong in the company, the first place to look at should be the culture. Good physicians know that treating symptoms without tackling the causes is an exercise in futility. Organisations ensure that important issues are given utmost attention. No one can argue against the importance of finance to a business entity that intends to make profit. For this reason, there is always someone responsible for the finances of the business. This individual is the Chief Finance Officer. Every organisation knows that the its survival rests on its operations, therefore the Chief Operations Officer position is one that is carefully considered.

If culture is such an important factor in the performance of the organisation, including the quality of service it offers to customers, then the call for a Chief Culture Officer is a step in the right direction. The Chief Culture Officer must of necessity be among the senior managers. The job is too important to be relegated to the lower echelons of the organisation.

The job schedules for the Chief of Culture should be simple straightforward. If the culture is serving the organisation well, then the job of this Officer is to ensure that the culture is maintained. He or she must find ways of ensuring that employees do not lose sight of what the culture is and what it represents. However, if the culture is not helping the organisation achieve its objectives, then it is the job of the Chief Culture Officer to commence and to sustain a new cultural direction. Creating a new culture is as huge a task as any other. If the company has been in existence for a long time, then attempting to create a new culture becomes an uphill battle. However, it is not impossible to re-create a new organisational culture with the help of the Chief Culture Officer.

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