The priority of corporate culture

Arthur Marara

Point Blank

A sign visibly written all over one of Houston’s biggest medical institutions caught my attention when I was waiting to pick my aunt from her shift at the institution, “We respectfully decline tips, it is our pleasure to serve you.” Wow! 

The sign was written everywhere in a clear indication that they did not want anyone to miss it.

The story even gets interesting, I was told of one patient who was treated at the institution who decided to write a US$200 000 donation so that it could be shared among the staff members who assisted him when he was admitted.

 The institution declined to accept the donation and insisted on its way of doing business.

In other words, it means “What you paid for the service is enough, we do not need another incentive for us to do our job”.

 This really moved me; a culture of service. In other parts of the world some people actually demand bribes to do what they are supposed to be doing. 

How do you summarise all of this, culture! 

The Japanese football team

I am not a football fan but I have noticed that this sport gives us lots of relatable examples and lessons for life. 

Japan led Belgium in the last World Cup football game by two goals up but later conceded two goals to give up the lead and eventually lost by just one goal (2:3) at the very last minute (94th minute) of the game. 

The fans picked up all the wastes in the stadium areas where they sat before leaving while the players cleaned the dressing room, leaving the floor spotless and sparkling clean as if it was never used, regardless of their loss… plus still left a ‘THANK YOU’ note in Russian?

Others would definitely ensure that you feel their frustration for the loss. They would not even bother to clean up the facilities that were handed to them in a neat condition. 

There is surely something worthy of learning from Japan! The answer for me is “culture.”

A country with a population of 127million but the second most technologically powerful and the third largest economy in the world, plus has a GDP of about US$4.9 trillion (which is more than the combined GDP of US$2.2 trillion for all the African countries with a population of about 1.2 billion).

A country with Shinto and Buddhism as their main religions and with tens of thousands of shrines and temples all over their lands, and yet demonstrate the highest sense of responsibility and respect everywhere they go plus an incurable commitment to valuing life through a sociocultural philosophy called IKIGAI whose meaning translates roughly to a reason for being, encompassing joy, a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of well-being.

A country heavily devastated by World War II as of 1950’s but through investments from various sectors, their government’s economic regulations like restriction on imports to boost exports, and a nationally entrenched business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices and personal efficiency called KAIZEN, they emerged out of it all to be a world giant today.

Culture is important. It can be build or ruin a nation. It can be build, grow or run down an organisation. 

Culture defined 

A deeply embedded employee culture enables people to have focus and this is what drives performance.

The role of leadership is to actually to discover, define and develop the culture that will give life to the goals that they want to achieve.

This requires a leader to understand the current culture, define the values desired and develop strategies to bridge the gap. Corporate culture is built on purpose and values. 

Every organisation has a culture. It can be formally defined or undefined. Culture is the way you do business as a corporate or an organisation. This is why even new employees to the organisation are often introduced to a “way of doing things”. That is culture. 

Culture shapes attitudes and behaviours. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within an organisation. Culture defines how people behave, interact and engage. 

This ultimately impacts on how they perform. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organisation’s capacity to thrive even in the most hostile of environments.

Business leaders are often perplexed by culture. 

Much of it is moored in unspoken behaviours, mind sets, and social patterns.

There are two approaches many leaders adopt; either to let it go unmanaged or relegate it to human capital department, where it becomes a secondary concern for the business. 

This is disingenuous, because a properly managed, and developed culture can help the organisation achieve change and growth in even the most trying times.

The company culture should support the organisation’s goals versus undermining it. Corporate culture is key to organisational viability and effectiveness

 “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

Management expert Peter Drucker is often credited with the famous adage, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Organisations succeed because of culture.

They also fail due to culture. This does not mean that strategy is not important in an organisation, it means in the absence of a healthy culture, all the efforts in strategy will be a waste.

 In fact, strategy and culture are among the primary controls at top leaders’ disposal in their interminable quest to maintain organisational viability and effectiveness.

Strategy is important in the organisation. It provides clarity and focus for collective action and decision making.

It relies on plans and sets of choices to mobilise people.

There are many ways to enforce it, either through rewards for achieving the goals or sanction for failure to do so. 

Strategy also incorporates fundamental adaptive elements that can scan and analyse the external environment and sense when changes are required to maintain continuity and growth. Strategy formation is one of the leadership functions. 

Understanding the fundaments of a successful strategy is what every leader needs to do. 

Culture, on the other hand is a more elusive lever. Much of the culture is anchored in unspoken behaviours, mindsets, and social patterns. Culture and leadership are intricately linked. As a leader you need to set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that will take the organisation forward.

This may even survive you. Culture can be shaped through both conscious and unconscious actions. The latter may however lead to some unintended consequences. There is need for agility as a leader.

 You may be leading in multiple cultures; you need to have an understanding of how these are embedded. You also need to sense when transformation is required, and can niftily influence the process.

To be continued… 

Arthur Marara is a corporate law attorney, keynote speaker, corporate and personal branding speaker commanding the stage with his delightful humour, raw energy, and wealth of life experiences. He is a financial wellness expert and is passionate about addressing the issues of wellness, strategy and personal and professional development. 

Arthur is the author of “Toys for Adults” a thought provoking book on entrepreneurship, and “No one is Coming” a book that seeks to equip leaders to take charge. 

Feedback: [email protected] or website or contact him on WhatsApp: or call +263772467255.

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