Centelon is currently a little over 4 years old with more than 110 employees spread across five cities in three countries. While this has been a great growth story, one of the challenges that comes with such rapid growth, especially one that is geographically dispersed is how do we establish a distinctive organisational culture.
To address this, we have started by rolling out a set of Values and are in the process of contextualising them internally for all our employees and using them to inform how everyone at Centelon views their role. We thought it would be useful to lay out our approach and thinking on effecting these values internally when we are starting the journey and periodically provide updates on the success or lack of it in driving them through the organisation.
One of the first questions we faced when we started thinking about this was- “What exactly is an Organisational Culture?” and “How would we know when we had one?”. One of the best descriptions of culture was provided by Edgar Schein. He writes that
“Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of culture as a concept is that it points us to phenomena that are below the surface, that are powerful in their impact but invisible and to a considerable degree unconscious. In that sense, culture is to a group what personality or character is to an individual. We can see the behaviour that results, but often we cannot see the forces underneath that cause certain kinds of behaviour. Yet, just as our personality and character guide and constrain our behaviour, so does culture guide and constrain the behaviour of members of a group through the shared norms that are held in that group.”
The implications of this understanding of an organisational culture are profound and quite fundamental to how we manage the organisation. I will use the Model of Organisational culture set out by Edgar Schein as a base framework and share with you some of the different aspects of what we have done fit in. I will also chalk out the next set of steps that we will now be embarking on a journey for Centelon.
At the top of the model are Artefacts, which are visible but whose meaning or value is indecipherable outside the group participating in it. Artefacts could be creative Logos, images, colours and use of language and any externalization of those brand ethos, it’s all that one can relate to with the Organization culture even as an outsider. From a Centelon perspective, right from the start we introduced a set of visible gestures or artefacts. Some of these are enduring with long term value such while others may be more ephemeral. The Artefact with the highest long-term value could possibly be with the most impact is the employee participation in the sense of ownership of the company in which all the employees get to participate in the ownership of the company as shareholders. Some of the more short-term aspects are the rewards and recognition culture and practice that has been promoted within the company.
Beyond these Artefacts are the Espoused Values. These are a set of formalised statements of organisational culture. At Centelon, the way we identified these values, was to find a common thread that brought and kept the core group together. The values we agreed best reflected us are Trust, Entrepreneurship, Attention to detail and Mateship. These are also core set of values that we believe will drive our continued success in the future.
Edgar Schein suggests that, Culture is-
“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems that has worked well enough to be considered valid and is passed on to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”
Entrepreneurship, to take an example can mean many different things, but in the context of what we are trying to do at Centelon the best description of Entrepreneurship is “The pursuit of Opportunities beyond resources controlled”. This aim of inculcating this type of behaviour is critical not just for the continued financial success of the company, but more crucially to make it the preferred destination for people who share these traits and thereby reinforce this behaviour. While we are confident about the value and the relevance of the values we have professed, it is of course the nature of Espoused values, that they are open to debate and change until they have been proven to be correct and they only way to prove the relevance and appropriateness of these values is through sustained success and growth of the company. This then brings us to the third and possibly important most level in the model, which is the Basic Underlying Assumptions. These are unconscious beliefs that are taken for granted within the group and form the basis of the shared norms that govern the group. As Schein puts it “This degree of consensus results from repeated success in implementing certain beliefs and values, as previously described. In fact, if a basic assumption comes to be strongly held in a group, members will find behaviour based on any other premise inconceivable”.
Challenges in Road Ahead
The task in front of us at Centelon is therefore, to marry our Mission with our Values and make them relevant to every single individual across the organisation in their role. The next steps are to inculcate these values in a manner that each employee thinks and acts in a manner consistent with the values in everything that they do.
This will also mean an updating of all aspects of how we measure and reward performance and behaviour within the company so that this becomes the magic potion that drives our success as we scale and it is not just the Leadership espousing these values, but rather the 100th or even 1000th person in the company internalising it in the way they operate.
We have set ourselves some aggressive targets and I look forward to sharing regular updates on how we are progressing.