Essentials of CMB: Culture Means Business


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Similar to how Latin is the root of all romance languages, culture – the identity, personality, structure, and processes of an organization – is a core business issue. It has real and dramatic effect on an enterprise’s strategic and tactical outcomes. Just like objectives in other areas, such as financial performance, customer service level, product development, sales and marketing, etc., culture should be prioritized and measured.

Culture can either build or restrict a company’s ability to grow and innovate. Cultural fit, for example, has been shown to be one of the biggest reasons for employee turnover and management ineffectiveness. More than a mechanical HR issue, it impacts every people-related decision, from hiring, through training and skills development, and employee performance and involvement. People drive the culture as all stakeholders experience it, and the culture drives the brand – and brand can also drive the culture. As frequently discussed, in successful, customer-centric organizations it is well understood that every positive interaction with an employee represents an opportunity for brand-building. This is employee ambassadorship, which directly influences customer advocacy and bonding behavior, and thus company reputation and overall stakeholder value.

Not as frequently discussed as a key cultural element is systems, the gathering and flow of essential information within the organization. Especially important is how the enterprise uses customer insight and encourages collaboration – too many companies still actively ‘cloister’ such information, swearing individuals and groups to secrecy – to facilitate innovation and evidence-based decision making. Some organizations have a strong ‘not invented here’ bias, or hindsight, i.e. ‘won’t work here’, bias. This impedes experimentation and new thinking, constricts diversity in the decision-making processes, and limits a company’s view of where and how it exists in the world. These information gaps, insular perspectives, and management choke-points need to be identified and eliminated; and, one area that can benefit is broader involvement in the insight generation process, making for more effective and real-world (for granular decision-making) customer research.

Company culture has the unique ability to provide and sustain organizational competitive advantage in the marketplace. Though deeply rooted and usually not change-responsive, in addition to a greater focus on information flow and talent nurturing, there are other, very positive, things an organization can do to build a stronger culture:

– encourage and celebrate leadership, and model their positive values and achievements

– build teams between and within groups, and create alignment between them so that individual and collective objectives are understood

– communicate goals within the enterprise, so that every employee understands his/her contribution and opportunities

– focus on continuous learning and development, at all levels of the organization

– incentivize cultural alignment throughout the organization, especially where innovation, creativity, and customer experiences are concerned

– work to promote trust through more open communication, authenticity, honesty, and transparency

We need to, at last, recognize that, more than just a business issue, culture is a living thing which exists within every company, whether by specific and intentional design, default, or accident. It embodies the thoughts, values, and experiences of all enterprise stakeholders. And, the business reality is that it directly influences whether an organization is able to meet its defined goals. Simply, culture:

– significantly impacts success and failure

– helps attract, and keep, top talent

– promotes the organization’s image and reputation

– helps drive enterprise and individual productivity

– increases employee commitment and ambassadorship

– competitively differentiates the organization

Organizations should want a thriving culture that cultivates the enterprise’s ability to engage and align employees, innovate and execute, and successfully drive toward designated targets. Why would a company not measure, and build on, something so important to its performance and place?

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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