Workplaces can be differentiated with the “smell” it has. That is how Sumantra Ghoshal, the genius management strategist, had put forward his illuminating concept on corporate culture.
In a workplace with bad smell, the energy is low and people are tired and constrained. He argued that the conditions that sap energy in such a workplace are driven by “constraint, compliance, control and contract.” Workers feel constrained by their organization and the processes that govern them. They sense they are primarily there to comply with the rules. They feel their boss, management and the system exist primarily to control them, and that their job is just a contractual obligation. These values, obviously, don’t create the right context, or smell, for workers to proactively act or create change.
On the other hand, there are workplaces, where corporate leaders create conditions that prompt workers to aspire for higher goals, and work with high energy and focus. Ghoshal reasoned that the leaders must endeavor to create a context that values “stretch, discipline, trust and support.” This is a corporate culture where workers are stretched to do more rather than less, are self-disciplined in their engagements, see their leaders as pillars of support, and can operate creatively in a system of trust.
Clearly, creating the right kind of “smell”, the cultural contexts, is not easy. Organizations and their captains, through their actions, mission and vision, create them, bit by bit, at their workplaces.
It is gratifying to see how businesses, even in these non-normal times, are acting right and making positive changes. While some actions are driven by ingrained corporate ethos, many are triggered by the pandemic, as new conditions.
Here are how some right contexts, with “right smell”, are taking shape:
Value of Stretch
CEOs are mitigating the pains in their businesses in a variety of ways. Most of them are carrying on with lesser employees in physical space and are leveraging digital/web to the hilt. Some are coping challenges of shrinking bottom-line through cost reduction and rationalization of workforce. Reskilling and redeployment of employees are being done to improve productivity.
As a virtue of personal “stretch”, many corporate honchos, and even employees, are having pay cuts or giving up bonuses. A few companies are even providing part of their establishments for shelter to pandemic-affected people/employee.
Value of Discipline
Adherence to discipline on standard procedures and protocols is critical during pandemic. As employees work remotely in a digital space, monitoring performance and good conduct is a challenge for organizations. However, those companies with robust work ethic, and effective communication and counselling mechanisms in place, are resilient enough to weather these personnel issues.
Virtue of resilience, a byproduct of discipline, is in fact grabbing positive attention. Amid overall low hiring though, many companies are aiming to onboard talent that thrived under pressure. Hiring agencies are looking for candidates who have been through a crisis situation, navigated tough transitions, and have the resilience to bounce back. Thus, professionals from aviation, hospitality, automobile, etc. having experience of severe disruptions are in demand. Going forward, as corporate world would see more consolidation, mergers and alliances of businesses with distress and challenges, such human resources could prove to be assets.
Value of Trust
Economic disruptions have hit the small units, retailers and micro-businesses the most. Not only are they now increasingly dependent on on-line channels for sales, they are also dependent on big corporates either for business or realization of receivables. Their expectation for fair-play in business dealings and transparency in accounting and data practices from big corporates is naturally high.
While many large businesses are mindful of the values of trust and transparency, some are found short on them. But, when these values are found missing, the small ones are raising voices against big brothers, forcing them to adopt ethical standards in business.
Value of Support
Humane actions, responses and initiatives of organizations are creating “fragrance” not only in their own arena but in their immediate business environment as well, as demonstration effect.
From extending support to their staff on emotional well-being and flexibility in working, the companies are connecting to their clients with sensitivity. Further, moved by tales of grief, heroic actions or selfless sacrifice, corporates and their captains are reaching out to the concerned people or organizations, making generous donations. Many are supporting noble causes for health, green and sustainability projects, with funding. The instances of charity, personal or through CSR, by CEOs, may see more manifestations in future.
Clearly, businesses having good smell are better placed for longevity in business.
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