Monday, January 18, 2016

Corporate culture drives enterprise performance as much as people !

It is a well-accepted fact that leaders define corporate culture and how teams behave; look around and you will find reflections of influential board members, CEO, other CXOs trickling downwards to their direct reports as well as teams below. The rub off creates interesting interplays between teams and functions where camaraderie or natural antipathy cascades downwards like the flow of water. This naturally occurring phenomenon determines the ability of the company to thrive or strive within industry competitive forces.

The autocratic paternalistic and dictatorial behavior of the CEO created an acquiescent team who tried second guessing what would come next but never took any action until the command was handed down with explicit instructions on execution. Every decision required approval, every direction was set by the Monarch, every one worked to keep Him happy even when they knew better. Profitable growth kept the Board away and the company trundled along overtaking others on the way to prominence.

Information was power; he divided segments such that collaboration depicted only part of the picture; the whole was visible only to him and he wielded that power over everyone. Irrational or good, his word was cast in stone and none challenged him. From the outside it appeared that the company had achieved greatness despite limited investments when compared to industry leaders or the standard benchmarks. It was only when the Great Dictator stepped down that the reality began to come out.

The company had a consistent track record of failed IT projects; these included implementations that were necessary to conduct fair business as well as operational efficiency seekers that would have given the company the real foundation to consistently deliver business performance. Projects would begin with usual fanfare, proclamations of the company having taken steps ahead of competition and then the initiatives faded into oblivion. The low success rate was accepted as normal with a view that the company was “different”.

Different they were indeed; take the instance of a large project that was approved after elongated analysis of local and global solutions. The company finally selected underwent excruciating negotiations; the project started off with an eclectic mix of global subject matter experts and sub-optimal resources allotted by the company who defined the process and workflows, each was discussed and debated for compliance to standards, rarest of rare exception conditions and current way of working.

The corporate culture did not allow individual points of view or decision making; any and all forms of alternative opinions or views were frowned upon, dissent was unheard of. All decisions – critical or otherwise – were referred for a final view and approval of the Monarch. He did take decisions, but in his own time; reminders were forbidden, after all he was so busy running the business. Thus the project saw time overruns, in some cases thrice the time budgeted for certain activities leaving the vendor helpless, threatening to pull off resources.

They never felt the need to hire a CIO; the story repeated itself with every project, the lack of credible leadership at the next level leaving the company at the mercy of the mediocre. In the absence of talent inflow, the microcosm thrived at the lowest levels of incompetence. By accident or providence a few projects that completed or delivered had sycophants calling out results of visionary leadership. Unable to handle the cultural fit and decision making that rendered the project unprofitable with no end in sight, the vendor finally pulled the plug.

Suppressive leadership had created assembly line of workers who did only what they were told to; they stopped thinking or applying their mind to any activity, event or happening. Humiliation, reprimand, and retribution in large doses ensured that everyone adopted a subservient way of working. Those who could not adjust exited to find better working conditions elsewhere; the resultant exodus of high professionals left the company poorer and challenged. It would take arduous effort to steer the ship back.

History repeated itself multiple times as if it left no lessons for the sufferers who continued to toil on both sides; the abrupt exit created a real vacuum leaving people with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt); the business ran out of steam quickly, the slowdown rang alarm bells across forcing the Board to wake up, take notice and investigate. Loyalists were given the task of arresting the downfall and build a strong team that will bring the company back on track and revive the growth it had enjoyed for more than a decade.

Turnarounds make good stories and that is for another time.

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