Learning Culture Is Built Together with Clients and Employees

Janne StrömbergIt’s easy to speak about customer focus and putting the customer at the center of your business. Unfortunately, in most cases these concepts will just be empty words in the corporate strategy.

When we’re busy running our business as usual, it’s easy to forget that if we honestly want to put the customer at the center, not just the customers but also the employees have to be put at the heart of all your business. As the amount of knowledge increases, technologies and markets are changing at the same, accelerating pace. The so called clock speed of the company, the working rhythm, should adapt to the pace of the change. Companies must be able to create new capabilities as a reaction to the constant change.

Engage and Motivate with Shared Goals

All the employees and the entire organization has to be engaged and ready to face constant change and fulfill the customer needs. In order for the competent and professional employees to stay motivated and engaged, it’s crucial to create the goals and the vision together. When employees are given the chance and power to affect both their own professional path and the path of the company as a whole, goals become considerably more personal. This approach requires the leaders and managers to think in a new way: instead of tightening control and focusing on decision-making, leadership should be more about enabling and creating opportunities.

Enabling is all about genuine presence and listening and decentralized decision-making. Instead of protecting closed management structures, the drivers of change should be found in the customer encounters, where the customer experience is delivered. It can be hard for a traditional leader to accept the fact that the best knowledge and understanding of the business environment isn’t necessarily in his own head.

On the other hand, the employees are also responsible for the building of the shared future, if this chance has been given to them. Goals and visions that have been built together will most likely meet the market demand and customer needs better than plans that just the CEO or a small closed group has come up with.

Learning Culture Requires Trust

If a company wants to put the customer at the center and make continuous improvement possible, the company should build a strong learning culture. In an ideal situation, the learning culture allows the organization to become self-guided and the organization will automatically fix its course towards the shared goals. This can only happen if the organization’s employees share the same mindset, communication is active, knowledge is being shared, and trust is being built, which makes all the aforementioned things possible.

The values that support the birth of the learning culture are created by leading by example and sharing positive experiences. Trust in the organization is a requirement in order to create this kind of culture. If the employees can’t have their say on decision-making or their publicly expressed views lead to negative feedback, trust naturally grows weaker and knowledge sharing and participation decreases.

However, changing culture and modifying the values that support the culture is difficult. It’s hard to tap into the values, as behavior is the consequence of the way individuals and networks work. Both employees’ and leaders’ personal values have to change to some extent, which demands strong self-knowledge and self-leadership at all levels of the organization. You’ve got to be able to adjust your own values to meet with the values of the organization. Change will not happen, if the individual is unable to adapt her actions in relation to the feedback she has received from her surroundings.

When it comes to adjusting values, it all comes down to setting an example: the way you act in different situations will have an influence on your own network of people. Unfortunately negative values stick more easily than positive. You’ve really got to be awake, so that behaviors and procedures that encourage distrust are not supported in the organization.

It’s easy to scapegoat the employees for all the problems related to the cultural change, when you encounter some resistance to change. Yet there are two types of resistance: well-grounded and groundless. It’s important to remember that management practices that are not based on the shared values can also block and slow the change.

In the end, changes in culture and in values can’t be successful without the right kind of leadership. The most important thing is to prioritize and look for the root causes in the right places. The causes are rarely unambiguous in complex communities. Humility and renunciation are needed in leadership in order to successfully create a learning culture, but at the same time it will bring significant new opportunities with.

The writer has a Master’s Degree in Industrial and Knowledge Management and he’s working as a development manager at MPY.

Bean Bags and Circus Tricks Won’t Change the Corporate Culture for Better

Panu LuukkaI was taking Peppi, my 7-year-old daughter to her grandparents, when she made an announcement from the back seat of our car: “Dad, I’ve started to like cheese”. This liking of cheese was a big thing for our family, as Peppi, still a growing child, wasn’t very fond of any dairy products besides ice cream. To secure the necessary amount of calcium for growth, we had had to be somewhat imaginative with the food choices; hence the introduction of cheese to the diet was excellent news for us. When I asked Peppi, how she had learned to like cheese, our back seat philosopher gave me an exhaustive answer: “Dad, that’s just how life sometimes is.

She couldn’t have been more right, and right at that moment all the big pieces fell into place. Last week I had heard Sir Ken Robinson say the exact same thing almost as elegantly: Life is never linear, it’s always organic. We can’t explain and manage everything with 100 % certainty. What we can do, is try to design the environment so that the probability for the desired things to happen will increase. In business, the best way to manage probability in organic entities made out of people, also known as organizations and companies, is to affect the corporate culture.

”Corporate culture is all that happens when nobody’s looking.” This is how William Wolfram, the founder of DealDash, defined corporate culture to me. I haven’t yet found a better definition for corporate culture anywhere and believe me, I’ve tried. William’s definition captures the meaningfulness of corporate culture very well; culture affects everything and on all levels of the organization. For your organization, corporate culture can either be a strength or your biggest obstacle to success.

When it comes to corporate culture, it’s crucial to remember that there are no universal rights or wrongs. The corporate cultures of Google, Futurice or SuperCell are universally no better than the cultures of VR Group or Alko. The “rightness” of the culture is always defined in relation to what the company has decided to be and what the company’s goals are.

Every company has its own culture, whether it’s being intentionally managed or not. Corporate culture should always be managed, as it is very unusual for something good or excellent to happen by accident. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but in this case exceptions are as rare as ham on the Jewish Christmas table. I’ve come across many early stage startups that have intuitively made all the right choices from the culture’s point of view. What has become a challenge for many organizations, is growth and maintaining the corporate culture in the growth phase. In order to sustain the right and desired culture during rapid growth, you need to stop and become aware of the presumptions and building blocks that have lead your corporate culture so far. These elements have to be intentionally attached to the culture of the growing company; in spite of the well-paid, ex-Nokian HR Manager, who would like to build this startup into a new Little Nokia.

On the other hand, if you don’t – or don’t want to – understand the basic laws of the human mind, there’s always the chance to manage and build corporate cultures actively wrong. Here’s a concrete and easy example: if there is a strong belief in the organization that collaboration brings better results than individual achievements, the reward and recognition system should be built to support collaboration, not individual performance.

People often ask me, what is the ”easiest” way to build sustainable corporate culture. You can’t change corporate culture with bean bags, ball pits or any other circus tricks for that matter. The best and the most sustainable way to build corporate culture is to start with the basics, and ask ourselves, what is our purpose of being and where do we want to go. However, the following questions are the most essential regarding corporate culture: what kind of team do we need and how should we work in order to reach our goals? The answers to these questions will define the company’s authentic and meaningful values, which should be made real in the daily working life.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it is easy, but it takes a heck of a lot of effort, and you have to be systematic and persistent. It’s much like what my friend Kimmo Kedonpää has said about golf: “Golf is all about luck. The more you practice, the better luck you will have.” There are no shortcuts to success, so get back to work!

The writer is the founder and CEO of Naqu Oy, Finland’s first and only consulting company specialized solely on designing corporate cultures. This consultant, coach and inspirer has worked more than ten years with HR, leadership and management.

P.s. If you don’t believe that values and value-based leadership will bring competitive advantage to your company, you shouldn’t waste your time and money for trivial matters. (in Finnish) will create stockmarket-credible values for your company in just 30 seconds.