Dorothea Starke is a professional in people & organizational development. She has previously worked in both start-up and corporate environments before. Her mission is to empower people and organizations as a coach, consultant, innovator and enabler. Delband Tamjidi, Associate Consultant at Frazer Jones in Düsseldorf, spoke with Dorothea about corporate culture.
How can corporate culture function as a differentiating factor for a company?
For me culture means identity. Values are becoming increasingly important in these value-driven times. Values such as sustainability, diversity/anti-racism helps employees identify with, and continue to work for, a company. Culture also as glue: in unpredictable and volatile times like these, company processes, structures and business models change fast; people change jobs more often. Employees need orientation and a strong culture can give them that.
What is the role of HR when it comes to implementing corporate culture?
- HR as coach: Helping in the process, to give room and the setting to work through it. The builder is the business itself (Leaders, units, teams, employees).
- HR as connector, consultant, mediator, mirror: HR is the sandwich function between management and employees. In their role as people managers, they must understand needs, perspectives and ideas of both sides and enable dialogue between all levels and units.
- HR can also be an enabler and facilitator: Building formats and measurements like dialogue platforms and HR processes which foster the aspects of the company culture; supporting units and teams to implement suitable processes and to build their organizational structures and communication to foster the culture.
What are the challenges?
- Defining roles: HR cannot implement a culture, but HR can support, consult, enable, foster, analyse, reflect … (see above). Bringing culture into life is a job for everyone in the company. Defining these roles is a challenge.
- Ownership: Bringing the top management, leaders and other stakeholders into ownership
- Managements approach to “implement” culture like a project: Culture is the result of collective behaviour. Project implementation plans don’t work because people are not machines. It needs to grow.
- Best practices: Copying a culture doesn’t work. Every organization needs to find and develop its own unique culture
- Subcultures in the company: Teams and units have their own unique cultures. They will always be there and need to fit into the corporate culture.
- “Easy decisions > hard life. Hard decisions > easy life”. This is a quotation from Lea-Sophie Cramer. Nice giveaways are not the answer but instead organizations should go where it hurts; changing bonus systems, disrupting processes, etc.
Which stakeholders does HR have to interact with regards to corporate culture?
- Executive board
- Managers of all levels
- Employee board
- Corporate communication unit
- Opinion leaders on employee level
How important is purpose and priorities to a business?
Very important. Purpose is the core. In a V.U.C.A World (Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous), purpose is the stable anchor in an always changing corporate environment and is part of a firms DNA. Setting priorities in a complex and dynamic world is in my opinion even more important than setting goals to get things done.
How does a business embed corporate culture at the very start of an employee’s journey, i.e. from induction on day 1 (or even earlier)?
It starts with the job description and the way of reaching out to candidates (NOT the employer branding website). It truly reveals what is important for a company (Experience? Personality? Soft skills? Rewards?). Within the recruitment process candidates get to see at a glance how employees are treated in the company, how decisions are made (and how fast), how people-oriented a company is, how innovative a company is, how accessible leaders are, how much a team is involved in management decisions, etc. It does not mean that the process covers it 100%, but there is plenty of information between the lines. Take care of your recruiting!
Corporate culture and the various generations within a business – how do you address the needs and motivations of different generations within a corporate culture?
I believe that a lived corporate culture is beyond age, cultural background, gender or profession. It describes in the core the image of man, how an organization wants to work together for a shared purpose and how to strive for their vision.
The role of creating a feeling of safety within a corporate culture – to discuss, what does ‘safety’ look or feel like to an employee to enable high performance to thrive?
I can just answer this on a personal level because psychological safety is highly subjective. For me it means:
- Authentic Leadership: I can rely on decisions made, behaviour, information, interests and goal settings of my manager. My manager tells me the things he does not know (or where he/she has no control of) and shares information as soon as possible. My manager is also truly interested in his/her team and employees. My manager has a clear vision and strives for it.
- Collaboration instead of competition: Working together and helping each other’s out
- Transparency: The board/company shares business information and trusts the employees so that employees and teams can take over ownership
- People-Orientation: Employees are seen as people, not just as resources. That’s when you reach eye level. You are talking to an adult. It also means to keep your employees employable (Happy to stay but able to leave), paying fair salaries, living true diversity, finding a way to bring life and work issues together, e.g. with flexible working models
The core of psychological safety is not to be “nice to people” but to bring employees and teams into true ownership and to come into their best sustainable performance.