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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Managing a High Growth Business: Its the Culture, Stupid!

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Culture is one of the most under rated aspects influencing a business. Get it right and you can support and promote cooperation to support and reinforce success. Get it wrong and you can say goodbye to a successful business and say hello to a world of hurt.
British poet and critic Matthew Arnold viewed ...Image via Wikipedia

Every business has a culture whether you know it or not, whether you've consciously tried to set one or not.  Culture is set the day you start a business as it is a reflection of you, the owner, your values and personality. So if you like playing politics, politics will become an integral part of the business. Your values on customer service, sales, staff management in fact everything you do in business both internally and externally is influenced, if not dictated, by your culture.

Given its importance why is Culture not higher up on the list of things to explore when building a business.  In fact it’s often completely overlooked. The reason for this I would suggest is that the critical impact that Culture has on a business is not well understood. It is often completely overlooked by advisers and start ups alike, under the misguided impression that culture is something for a big business to consider. This totally ignores the fact that having the wrong culture is likely to prevent you from getting to a big company in the first place.    It is also because Culture is one of those soft touchy feely issues that tend to be avoided by by business people and is shunned by an ever more materialistic society. This is not intended to be a commentary on the importance of culture in our society but rather impact ignorance as an owner of what your business culture is and what it should be.

Taking this analysis further; incompatible cultures, or rather a lack of interest by the sellers of business and ignorance of the importance by buyers is the number 1 reason why so many acquisitions fail or at least fail to deliver a significant portion of the expected benefits. More worryingly ignorance of the importance of culture is the most common reason why the cost of integration is substantially more than projected.

How do you identify your culture?

This is a two step process. Firstly identify what you would like your culture to be then secondly ask your staff what they think it is. In order to make it easier for your staff to explain what they think is the company culture, distil the description of your culture into a few words. So for example; customer service, quality and price. Also recognise that the order of the words indicates their importance. For example a business with the keyword priority customer service, quality and price will have a significantly different culture to a business whose keyword priority is price, quality and customer service. Try it, you’ll find the answer illuminating.

If the culture is not what we want, how do we change it?

Changes in culture are notoriously difficult to implement because we are trying to change people’s attitudes. Change starts with you, as in all probability, you created the original by your actions or the appearance of your actions.

Step 1 clearly define what you want your culture to be in as much detail as possible, explain your rationale, then go on to describe how you will expect your management and staff to act. Then you follow a long process of reinforcing the culture across the business, but how you do this is the subject of a future article.
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Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for High Growth Business Business Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help Business Owners improve the profit performance of their business.  

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