Are your people your most valuable assets?

There are many philosophies and approaches associated with enhancing corporate culture. At a high level I would put them into two categories:

One school of thought represents the view that in order to create a strong culture and get everyone to row in the same direction you need to create clear metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) in all key areas and then manage and control these with rigor, discipline, efficiency and a firm hand. As a result, people will fall in line.

Another school of thought says that in order to build a culture in which ‘the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts’ you have to ensure that everyone’s heart and mind is in the game. This means that people are motivated, they own the strategy and objectives, they feel empowered to take initiative and do what is needed to get the job done.

People often refer to the first approach as the “hard” approach and the second as the “soft” approach. Leaders tend to fit into one of the two camps, even though as is often in life, the best approach is probably a hybrid of the two.

But, no matter which approach you take, it is paramount to remember – your people are the most important part of your culture and success.

Many of the organizations I work with are highly technologically based. Many of them use the newest web-based, social media-type and digital tools to measure, track and assess the shape of their culture. Unfortunately, at times I see teams get so enamored with the tools that they lose track of what’s most important.

No matter how tech-savvy your organization is; no matter how many cool technology-based tools you come up with and use – your ability to create a strong culture and achieve your business objectives will always depend on your people. There are no shortcuts in this.

I don’t care how large your organization is, how dispersed or diverse it is. You cannot create a strong culture primarily based on technological tools, no matter how sophisticated and advanced they may be.

I am not against technology or technology-based tools, in fact quite the opposite! However, somewhere and somehow down the line leaders and managers have to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with generating real human interaction, communication, trust, education, enrollment, and inspiration. This has to start at the top. There is no way around it.

I work with many global virtual teams who are dispersed all over the world, and who can’t meet in person very frequently. They have to heavily rely on technology in order to communicate, collaborate, succeed and maintain a strong identity and culture. I have witnessed impressive successes and dismal failures. The difference is that those who succeeded understood the limitations of technology when it comes to culture, hence they never neglected to always put their people first.

I find it disheartening that in some companies the most senior HR leaders either don’t seem to get this or they don’t seem to accept it. They seem to believe that they can manage their organizational culture through a digital dashboard showing high scores through online surveys and personality profile assessments. Well, that may be an effective way to present a good story to a disconnected CEO or senior team in an ivory tower. However, where the rubber meets the road, it is not how culture works or what makes people tick.

I have heard HR leaders explain this in terms of “You can’t scale through personal touch and interactions”.  But, I completely disagree. My experience is that at the end, personal touch and interaction are the only way to succeed in building a strong identity and culture.

Yes, if you have tens of thousands of people working in your company you have to create methods to distil the messages and equip your leaders and managers to manage, touch and inspire people. So, if you want to use technology, make sure it serves and enhances the human aspect, not ignores or replaces it.

Never forget: any technology or tool is only as effective as the culture within which it is being implemented. For example, if the culture is political the tools will simply enhance that, as people will do everything to present a positive front, even if that is not the case. However, if the culture is open and honest the tools will enhance this, as people will use it to express how they really feel.

There is never a substitute for good old fashion communication, building trust and motivating people. It’s what makes the world go round.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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