Culture: drive it from the top, see it in the bottom line


By Marno Boshoff

We asked Marno Boshoff, Culture Evangelist at King Price Insurance to share some thoughts on the importance of a healthy organisational culture and how that affects the bottom line. King Price Insurance is a strategic asset in Mergon’s portfolio of investments. 

What’s the biggest influence on the culture of an organisation? Can an organisational culture be changed? And does culture actually affect the performance of the business? These are questions I’m asked all the time – and I usually answer by telling the story of one of the iconic software companies of our time, Microsoft.

Since being founded, Microsoft has had three CEOs: Bill Gates (25 years), Steve Ballmer (14 years), and most recently, Satya Nadella, who has been in the position for six years. Each brought their own unique style to the organisation – and ultimately, their own culture. That’s because leaders are the biggest influence on the culture of any organisation: the culture bears the fingerprint of the CEO and the senior leadership team.

Since Nadella took the helm in 2014, Microsoft’s culture, along with its entire business approach, has undergone some rapid, and necessary, changes. During one of the first shareholder meetings he attended as CEO, Nadella stressed that Microsoft’s ability to change its culture would be the leading indicator of the company’s future success.

So does culture have an effect on the business? Let’s look at the facts. When Gates left the CEO role in 2000, Microsoft’s share price was $58 per share. Ballmer, the archetypal hard-driving salesman, left 14 years later with the share price at $38 per share – and many industry experts questioning whether Microsoft’s time had come. Under Nadella’s guidance, the share price has ballooned to its current levels of around $210 a share – in less than six years.

What makes Nadella special? For one, he was a long-time ‘insider’. Insiders are the people who build culture and take ownership. And their mission is to create as many insiders as possible, and as few outsiders. A critical element of his culture overhaul was to instill what he calls a ‘growth mindset’, as opposed to the internal politics and warfare that had held sway until then.

As marketing head Chris Capossela famously said: ‘We went from a company of know-it-alls to a company of learn-it-alls’. This is vital. Embracing a learning culture lies at the root of change and growth. The moment we think we’re better than anyone else, or that we can sit back and watch the rest of the industry, we’re in trouble.

Creating a healthy, happy workplace

At King Price, we’re all about creating a healthy, happy workplace that makes our people want to bounce out of bed, come to work with a smile on their faces, and be their best selves all day long. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, we genuinely love our people. And two, a healthy workplace is the foundation for a successful business. Happy employees are more productive, deliver better client care and help build a more profitable business.

Our drive to maintain our culture starts with hiring new people. We ask two questions: do they create clarity or confusion? Do they create energy or suck energy? Ultimately, we want people who create energy and are clear about their mission. Coupled with a clear sense of purpose and mission from the top, we shape a culture that many companies envy. It’s something we work on every day, because it’s business critical.

Workplace trends to expect in 2021

There’s no denying that Covid-19 changed the dynamics a bit last year. Well, more than just a bit – and we’re going to see the effects in workplaces across South Africa and the world. So what are some trends we can expect in the coming year and how can you build your company culture around it?

1. Remote work is here to stay

Even before the pandemic we were already looking at remote working models for certain areas of our business. Covid-19 just showed that it could work. In 2021, we’re going to see a lot of companies formalising their remote work arrangements, with clear benefits for the business and the employees alike.

A 2019 study found that 73% of all departments will have remote workers by 2028. We can agree that figure will be even higher now. The challenge for businesses will be to build agile work structures to support the new trend and keep their people engaged and connected.

2. A bigger focus on employee wellbeing

We’ve seen mental health issues, burnouts, and stressed workers becoming ever-more widespread in the workplace over the past decade. Covid-19 brought even more stress and worry into the workplace, with people worrying about their health and whether they would keep their jobs through the crisis. On top of that, the downside of remote working is that people battle to separate their home and work lives.

That’s why employee wellbeing is going to be right at the top of the list for many organisations this year. People’s wellness needs have shifted, and we need to respond. As businesses, we must show our people that self-care is a shared value, and encourage them to take more downtime and spend time with their families, friends and hobbies.

3. More social purpose, please

The Coronavirus pandemic highlighted a lot of things that are wrong with our society, including poverty and inequality. What this means is that employees and clients alike are looking to work for, and do business with, companies that live their values and demonstrate a real commitment to social responsibility.

At King Price, #MakingADifference is embedded into our business model. We’ve seen how companies that put social responsibility into action stand out in a highly competitive marketplace. The social needs in our country have rarely been higher, and I believe South African companies will step up and make a real difference in 2021.

4. Soft skills are the future

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the need for emotional intelligence (EQ) in the workplace, and how it accounts for as much as two-thirds of job performance. As companies continue to digitise, and we see more technologies like AI coming into the workplace, the role of soft skills will only become more important in 2021 and beyond.

Soft skills can be difficult to measure, but they’re the key driver of the human connections that are needed for high-performance teams. In a time of change and uncertainty, it’s up to businesses to not only upskill their people in work competencies, but soft skills too.

For us, culture starts at the top, and filters right through the business. But while the CEO has to be the culture champion, he has to get his people on board. Culture isn’t something that’s cooked up in a boardroom with strategists and HR people. It is modelled, and lived, every day. It is shaped by leaders interacting with their people.

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