How Culture Impacts The Bottom Line


What has the bottom-line got to do with the culture of your organization? Maybe more than you think.
Have you ever walked into a house and felt shivers go down you back? Have you walked into a meeting and felt a negative energy that you can't explain? If you haven't, maybe you have been asked to present to a board or senior management team, and as you walked into the room you could feel or sense a strained atmosphere. The smiles were with gritted teeth, and with a false grin. Then the people expected you to make your presentation fast, snappy and to the point.

Some years ago I was facilitating an executive team retreat. They were enjoying the comforts of a famous resort in our South Island. The second morning, one of the managers suddenly said; "Do you know that our staff has a mood gauge outside the board room and that whenever one of our managers presents to us, when they leave us, they point the mood gauge to how they think what kind of mood we are in. They even have a segment that says argumentative."

Suddenly everyone paid attention to that person. She happened to be the Human Resources Manager who was a bit younger than most of the team and a fairly new member. The conversation that followed was a reflection of what we had been discussing the previous day. I had presented the notion that if they were not happy with people's productivity and performance then maybe it was time to look at themselves and the sort of culture they had created for their company. At first there were some excuses that they were just a small subsidiary of a major multinational so the culture was driven from the USA. Then someone challenged that and they started to take a deep look at themselves and their responsibilities as the leadership team.

Sir Ralph Norris is one of New Zealand's most prominent CEOs. He is a culture change leader. In my former business I got to know Ralph Norris very well. In 1991 he took the helm of ASB Bank to lead it to become the leading bank in New Zealand. It was ahead with technology and the culture was one of "we can do, we are a one team bank". They wanted to expand out of Auckland region and after due diligence in purchasing another bank, decided to take the green fields way. That was a time when banks were curtailing growth, yet Norris did the opposite. He later went on to start the major culture change at Air New Zealand and recruited the right people, including the next CEO, Rob Fyfe, to make the important and vital changes for the airline to survive troubled times.

Since 2005 Sir Ralph has headed up CBA (Commonwealth Bank of Australia). What he has achieved in the last five years is recognised and applauded, even by the competition in Australia. Of course one of the areas he's improved is information technology which is his area of expertise, but he also knows that culture plays a big role in impacting the bottom line because it also increases customer and employee satisfaction.

Sir Ralph is a people person. He picks the right people -talented in their fields, but also the managers who also know how to lead and create a high performance culture. He is firm and compassionate, but will not tolerate behaviours that are detrimental to the business.

The question for organizations large and small is - Is your culture impacting the bottom-line positively, or negatively? ‘Tick the box' surveys do not give the real answers to how people think and feel. A skilled interviewer, usually external, is able to dig deeper and give an unbiased view when they listen to answers to questions such as:

  • How do you feel about working in your particular role and responsibilities?
  • What are the things that are working for you here?
  • What are the things not working for you here? (often a much longer list)

How do you feel about the leadership of the company at all levels?

  • What are the strengths and what is it you like about the leaders?
  • What is missing for you from the senior management team?
  • What do the company Values and Vision mean to you? (often employees don't know them or leaders don't set an example)

If this company had the ideal working environment what would it be like?

  • What can you do to contribute to this, in addition to what you are doing now?
  • What do you think is the key to this company becoming the most desirable place to work?
  • What do you think you need to change in your approach to your work at this company?

If your organization is controlling its bottom line by reducing head count, cancelling training and development, and/or hiring people who are not really up to the job, then this could lead to your best people looking elsewhere. A long recession may entail major cuts, but how prepared for growth are you and your company? And if someone asked about the culture in your business would the answer be one of "Fear" or "Fearlessness"?

Gilly Chater
The Breakthrough Catalyst


Gilly helps people achieve insight powered breakthroughs for themselves and their businesses. She is an inspirational speaker who presents keynotes and breakouts at conferences and writes about the key ingredients for success in today’s world.

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