Work culture shapes your success

Let us start at the beginning. Creating a culture of excellence can falter at the first step. We need to establish the meanings of culture and excellence. We need to understand why we want it, how we get it and how much extra profit will it make us. (Call me a cynical old dog, but this is a business publication.)

Let's start with culture. What does this mean in the workplace? Merriam-Webster's definition is that it stems from the Latin cultura, meaning to cultivate "… the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education". Now, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I haven't given cash bonuses for achieving such dizzy heights. Admirable, yes, profitable, I'm not so sure. (Down, cynic, down.)

Thankfully, our favourite dictionary also offers us "… the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterises an institution or organisation". Now, that's more like it. There is also the stuff that lives on the top of old yoghurts, but we'll save that for the column on trimming the workforce. So, we need to establish our set of shared attitudes and values. I think the crucial word here is "shared". This common culture needs to be evident from the top down. Not merely as an example, but as an integral part of a business, which seeks to make each member of the team a part of its success, its progression and its direction. The 'culture' we are trying to establish in this context is as much of a community as it is a philosophy and we need to encourage our team to recognise that.

But first, it's back to definitions, and we need to quantify 'excellence'. It's not as though we don't know what it means, it's just that we need to clarify where it goes. What particular aspect of our community are we looking at and how do we know when we've achieved it? Some employers may describe a culture of excellence as a highly efficient workforce. Others may say it's simply low maintenance. Very different ends of the spectrum.

Google has often been praised for its strides towards a culture of excellence. Happier people means greater productivity. And while the company may well achieve its goal, its methods must be one of the most apocryphal corporate stories in history. I'm sure we've all heard of the Friday afternoon search-engine pool sessions, where everyone simply downs tools and sets off to have a feet-up, think-tank, eight-ball, group-hug. Actually, it's 50 engineers (many of whom actually prefer the term 'geeks') who sit down for an hour to try to persuade their bosses to develop their techy ideas. It's an excellent way of creating a bond, but tai-chi, it ain't.

As an aside, the word 'culture' also of course, refers to a 'refined taste in artistic pursuits'. Eric Emerson Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google is listed in ARTnews, the oldest and most widely circulated magazine of its kind in the world, as one of the top 200 art collectors. Cultured, without a doubt, but certainly not one of the boys.

I think involvement, motivation, partnership and reward are probably the key constituents towards a culture of excellence. We need to create an environment where there is mutual respect for people as well as professionals, where there is the opportunity to develop on a personal level and also to enjoy an environment where we spend up to 18 years, day in, day out.*

The workings out for that in just a minute, but basically, you spend a lot of time at work and here's how as a boss you need to make sure you hire and retain the right staff and reach your true potential as a private enterprise.

Firstly, you must realise that we are all chasing a culture of excellence and in order for that to happen, changes need to be made. Nobody actually reaches excellence, its value lies in the thrill of the chase. Most employers would agree that a policy of integration and belonging is often at the heart of the culture, and therefore it makes sense in the corporate world to start as you mean to go on. Involve your employees. Ask them what changes they would like to see. What would make them happier in their work? What would make operations more efficient? What would make life easier? And the dreaded… What could I do better?

Remember, you are building a community, but, sadly, not just for the good of mankind, you need to make your business viable, profitable and sustainable. The harsh truth is that there are many potential employees who will take advantage of a trusting culture and not benefit your business. Your recruitment needs to be targeted, your message needs to be clear and your promises fulfilled. It is a long-established fact that a high turnover of staff can be deeply damaging to productivity and make a fairly hefty dent in the budgets. The tangible resources, corporate knowledge and client relationships that are lost make for bad reading.

Avoid that by keeping your company stars shining. If you have the opportunity to make an effort, grasp it with both hands. You have to be an excellent manager, before you can consider an excellent culture. Stir up some passion, share the same goals and enjoy the thrill of the chase.

So, how can we sum up the key factors: Leadership, vision, empowerment, contact, communication, training, development, rewards and recognition.

I think all of these hold true, but a couple more should be added: trust, honesty, openness, flexibility and respect. Each of those, without exception, must apply to manager and managed.

And never forget, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavour." (I Googled that.)

- Leave full time education at 22 years, lifespan equals 80 years, remainder equals 58 years (3,016 weeks). Minus 290 weeks holidays (five weeks per year) equals 2,726 weeks, multiply by 7 equals 19,082 days. Minus weekends of 5,452 days equals 13,630 working days, (1,947 weeks, 37.44 years.) Then I figured that none of us work a complete 24 hour cycle and we would also retire before the age of 80. It all sort of fell apart when I realised that if I had been born in 1824 I would be able to retire next June.

The writer is MD of Commercial Finance at Gulf Finance. The views expressed are his own