Leadership: Seven myths about workplace culture

POONACHA MACHAIAH –The writer is the Founder and CEO of Above Solutions

 These urban legends prevent firms from getting sustainable advantage.

Most CEOs spend a better part of their time working on a superior business model for sustainable advantage, and majority of the management team’s mindshare on market and dynamics.

If they spent just a fraction of that time on their own “workplace culture”, they could unlock the potential to creating the most sustainable advantage. We have the ability to use our human capital to shape our desired culture or it will inevitably shape itself, and we may not like it!

Here are seven myths with respect to workplace culture pertinent to the IT/R&D services sector. There are seven steps to ensure that one can create and maintain a company culture that will attract and retain the best talent.

Myth 1

You cannot have a company with people of high ability; you also need a mix of ‘less ability’ that the high ability can leverage.

Fundamentally, this has been the crux of the problem, since companies are building mediocrity into the organisation by working on the “pyramid” model. The goal should be to structure the HR processes to attract and retain high ability people and see how you can do more with less. This may mean changing the business model with your customers to move from a “staffing” business model to a project, milestone, success or value-based business model. This will reduce issues arising from attrition, since high ability people will be able to work across projects, rather than be just deployed onsite and lose their identity over time.

Myth 2

Strategy should come from the management team and seasoned executives.

Hiring the best talent into an organisation ensures that strategy and decision-making can be distributed, as long as there is cohesive culture and a process to bring together the various levels. Given the speed of change and market dynamics, it is no longer efficient for the handful at the top to direct an entire organisation with a command and control style of management.

Myth 3

A services company is all about “billable hours” and will not be able to deliver repeatable solutions and build products.

Too many services organisation fall into the trap of just fulfilling a requirement of filling a position with “bodies”, and hence the industry has been labelled “body shop”. It’s time to take ownership and partner with prospective customers on innovative business models. This will enable companies to move away from cost arbitrage and create a culture where employees take pride in creating repeatable solutions.

Myth 4

Given the attrition numbers in the IT industry, working on trust and collaboration is a waste of time.

If we look at a purely “staff augmentation” business model, then the nature of the business is to treat the individual as an asset that is deployed for a project. The HR processes are geared towards managing a “bench” so that if there is attrition they can offset it. Therefore, this corporate behaviour does not look at building a culture of trust. To be competitive, organisations need to focus on building a mutual bond between the individual and the organisation.

Myth 5

Transparency about the fiscal health and operations of the company is a bad idea.

We live in a world where everything is moving towards an “open” environment. To build trust, we have to practice four principles, that is, generosity, vulnerability, accountability and candour. Therefore, it is important that as leaders in the new era, we are open to being candid about the company, be vulnerable when we may not have all answers and be generous with our time with employees.

Myth 6

The sales team should focus on opportunities with large companies.

The traditional business model in IT companies is to go after large multi-national companies, since this would give them the scalability to build the “pyramid” model for a sustainable services strategy. In the new era where companies such are Airbnb and Uber are virtualising products and services, the sales strategies of IT companies will also have to adapt and work towards partnering with emerging start-ups/category leaders to focus on “non-linear” business models.

Myth 7

Focusing on culture and “soft values” is a waste of time – you cannot afford to be nice to employees and customers.

Too many times, we have been told that “nice guys finish last” and it’s all about margins and profitability.

There is no reason to debate this, but to be economically viable in the new economy, we have to inspect culture and spend considerable time evaluating how we can maximize our human capital, work collaboratively with our prospective clients and focus on shared risk/reward based business model in a true spirit of collaboration to create long term sustainable partnerships.

Related Reading: Leadership Books

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