Month: December 2014

According to Mike Gaffney many businesses underperform because of a negative company culture, rather than aggressive market forces or macro conditions. It’s often the lack of recognition of underlying bad habits and leadership behaviours that cause stagnation in the business. But business owners can take solace in the fact that there is a way to address the negative habits that are holding your company back.

Mike, just how damaging can a negative company culture be to a business?
In working with companies throughout Ireland, it’s becoming evident that we totally underestimate the effect of bad habits and norms in the business. You may send your people on a management development programme, and embark on a strategic review of the business, but unless we take a detached perspective, and take a serious look at how we think and act within the business, then all the commitment to logical changes won’t take hold; those underlying bad habits must be addressed

What drives these habits?
This behaviour is natural, the human brain is programmed to develop habits, like driving a car; the first time it’s awkward and clunky. After a while it becomes a subconscious behaviour, that’s how the brain works. So if you’re going to make serious changes in your business and maximize new opportunities, you need to recognise the subconscious habits and often limiting behaviours that are holding the organisation back. Without recognising and addressing them you won’t achieve the changes that are necessary to transform the business.

What should business owners do to change negative habitual behaviour?
It was Einstein who said ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ The big issue here is the lack of recognition of underlying negative habits and behaviours of business owners and management. Making statements to staff such as ‘we need to change’ isn’t good enough. And you can map out a new strategy for the business, but that won’t work either if you don’t address people’s negative behaviours. A fundamental change in behaviour must occur for any real progress to be made. Highly successful businesses recognise that they need three things.

1. a clear vision for where they want the business to get to
2. a mission statement as to why they exist now
3. a clear set of values that underpin the organisation’s culture & behaviour

If they can get their people to buy into those three areas, then they can address those old negative habits and develop new positive ones, and a new mind-set for the organisation.

Does that mean confronting staff who are not aligned with the company core values?
Before business owners can implement change they have to let people know what they want the company to change into. Clarity is required – clear vision, clear mission, clear values – so that people know what’s expected and are given a chance to adapt. Unless people have clarity in terms of what’s expected of them then people won’t change, and that clarity must come from the business owner. If there are certain values that are critical to the success of the business, and if people deviate from those values, then they are out of the organisation.

Does articulating the company values usually get the results business owners want?
Articulating it is not enough, the business owner has to walk the talk and lead by example. Sometimes the people who are most resistant to change are the most senior, longest serving employees in the organisation. Their attitude is ‘that’s all very well for the troops but I’m ok doing the same old routine.’ But if everyone acknowledges their underlying negative behaviours, and agrees to buy into a new set of core values and behaviours, then together you can take the company to the next level. Without that buy-in everyone will just continue pulling against each other.

What tools can businesses use to help them clarify their vision, mission and core values?
As part of the futureSME methodology, a method that we use ourselves, we sit with the management team and have them craft a vision, a mission statement, and 5 or 6 core company values that will become part of their new visual strategy for the business. It’s just one part of what is known as visual mapping; a tool that business owners and management teams can use to great effect, with real tangible results.

We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘one bad apple spoils the barrel.’ The old idiom is often applied to political organisations and large corporations, but it may be applied to SMEs too. Essentially the phrase refers to negative habitual behaviour that can permeate throughout a group. Mike Gaffney explains why establishing a set of positive core values is vital for developing the right kind of company culture; the kind that both employees and customers can respect. And ultimately the kind that will decide your company’s destiny.

Mike, why are core company values so important?
Managers and business owners tend to focus on things like numbers, and performance this year compared to last year, and how to squeeze more out of the team we have. They often fail to recognise that people are not motivated by the owner’s increased profit or turnover. However, they are motivated by being part of a team where they are valued and respected, and where there are shared company values that they can align themselves with.

Company Culture
In a military context, the use of mantras and expressing values has been used for a long time. For example the motto by the SAS ‘Who Dares Wins’ expresses the type of mind set that they are famous for. So a company’s core value set can reflect who and what they are. We find that some organisations totally ignore, or underestimate, the power of values in changing behaviours to improve individual and collective performance.

How do you define values in an organisational context?
Values are the set of beliefs that guide our conduct individually and collectively within the organisation. For example, at LEAP our core values are:

Collaboration – we believe in collaborating with our clients to ensure the best solution for them
Rigour – we believe in applying rigour to everything we do
Authenticity – we are genuine in our approach
Impact – there’s no point in being great at what we do if it’s having no impact on the company
Creativity – we believe in providing creative tailored solutions for our clients

We hold ourselves to account with those 5 values. It’s a simple, straightforward way to see if we are keeping ourselves on track regarding the standard of performance and behaviour we expect from ourselves, and crucially, how that translates into our behaviour with clients.

Your Company’s Destiny
It’s also important to remember that in business your customers will ask 3 questions of you, and the value set that you define for your team need to reflect those questions. The questions are:

1. Do you have high standards?
2. Can I trust you?
3. Do you care about me, the client?

If the value set that your people live by reflect and answer those questions then your company is on the right track. The main point for Irish businesses is that traditionally in Irish culture, and society, we have a good value set. However we don’t articulate them clearly enough, or reinforce them in the daily activities of the team. In the absence of those explicit values we create a vacuum where different habits creep in; habits that are not in line with our core company values and how we want our teams to behave.

Practicing Core Values, Not Just Preaching Them
So developing teams that believe in, and practice, the core values of the company creates a real sense of ownership and belonging to the company. Ultimately that leads to more successful business performance.

As Ghandi once said:

your beliefs become your thoughts,
your thoughts become your words,
your words become your actions,
your actions become your habits,
your habits become your values ,
your values become your destiny.