Home >> Executive Dialogue >> The “C” Word

The “C” Word

By Jason Milligan

CULTURE: (n.) ˈkəl-chər the broad total ways of living by a group of human beings, and the transmission of those ways of living (working) from one generation to another.

Clearly we all (Yahoo’s CEO included) are struggling to better understand the importance of this shift in where work happens. The nature of business and how we as organizations work as a dynamic results oriented teams, despite our individual remote locations. For me this discussion begs a larger question: who ultimately is in charge of building, maintaining, and pardon the double meaning…cultivating these corporate culture changes that result from a new web based work space?

We’ve all incorporated mobile devices like mobile phones and computers for years, what makes this internet shift different is the reality that knowledge workers and all non-client facing personnel can to do their jobs remotely. With a high speed internet connection, the right software and a phone, a worker can sit anywhere, even in their pajamas until noon, calling, emailing, proposing, quoting, web hosting, prospecting, demonstrating software, and handling accounts receivables issues. My position is that if it isn’t the CEO’s role to fix broken corporate culture’s than I am not sure we are still living in a free capitalistic society. Admittedly, my perspective is biased towards the best interest of my company, my customers, and my employees. I need, and want to make sure that the culture I help create strengthens all of the above.

I began my last blog post stating my agreement with Yahoo’s CEO and her right to pull all remote workers back to the office. My opinion is shaped by my conviction that as the top officer of a company, all CEO’s are charged with leading constructive change efforts. This is especially true of corporate cultural changes, which cannot be delegated or handed off. Case after case proves that if they are not the ones leading those changes, any other efforts to alter a corporate culture rarely survive.

By the nature of the office then every CEO must define the mission, and lead the charge when it comes to how an organization functions, or conducts its core business. In the case of Yahoo and all publicly held companies each are charted essentially for the creation of profit for their shareholders. Ultimately responsible, the CEO, gets to choose, right, wrong, or somewhere in the middle, and results will ultimately prove their decisions wise or…not. So, if culture, as we’ve defined it, requires the passing along of those all-important norms and methods, policies, and procedures, between people, it follows that a central element to that transmission would be those people being together (for at least some regular periods of time) is needed for long-term success.

In the Material Handling Industry all our businesses have slightly different cultures. Some of us, use our culture as a way to sell ourselves…we have a culture of “responsive service”, or “engineering excellence”, or “client satisfaction”. Hopefully, these slogans aren’t just marketing jargon, hopefully your culture can and does translate to people outside our organization. We often use our culture to differentiate ourselves from the competition, and create value for our clients who receive valuable benefits by forming beneficial vendor partnerships. We seek ways to make ‘cultural’ connections with our clients, by acquainting ourselves with the culture of our client’s business. We learn all we can about them, and convey our shared values, and convince them we are on the same team. As Rich Bair, my Sales Manager says…”we seek to sell from the same side of the table as our client”.

Seeking success through these cultural connections based on human behavior goes back to the cave. It’s important to foster a value added culture, one that creates benefits for clients, and one that generates passion toward accomplishing the corporate mission. Tinkering with a good culture, can be a little intimidating, and scary. Tug the wrong way, anger employees, and then client satisfaction suffers. But unless you have a consistent and constant process to keep your culture evolving you’ll soon find your organization surpassed by others hungrier and faster at creating a culture that sells. This remote working cultural shift will undoubtedly continue to alter our work life landscape, and younger workers will push the expectation of telecommuting.

Where is your organization on this continuum? Careful consideration must be given to remote working, it impact on your winning culture, with an eye to the benefits and possibilities that technology offers. Fostering a culture that allows clients to experience the benefits your culture creates in action, is the core of being a business leader. If you sell customers on the fact that you have ‘the fastest parts delivery in town’, you better set to work actually being fastest. Or, you will find yourself without a slogan, or a customer, and then you’ll be very sad indeed. So, if you are Yahoo, and your mission is, “to be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses,” I would argue that you cannot be THE most essential Internet service, if 200 of your employees are working from home on their side businesses.

The CEO owns the culture, and gets to set the course and make the changes necessary to reach the goal of exceeding expectations for your clients, and in so doing, has every right to re-focus everyone on the core value drivers, activities, work habits, or location(s) of work, to drive business success.