Forever featuring in the annual ‘Word of the Year’ compilations, the concept of culture continues to dominate the Australia and New Zealand business lexicon.
Yet as Stan Slap explained to 250 trans-Tasman delegates at EDGE 2016; “culture is the most overused and often least understood concept in business.”
Headlining ARN and Reseller News’ destination channel conference in Hamilton Island, the world renowned culture guru - and CEO of SLAP company - issued a welcome reality check to the business leaders of the industry.
“As a leader, you can’t change your culture because you are the culture,” he stressed.
“Your employee culture has 25, 35, 55, or maybe even 75 stories and every one of them is about you.
“The combined power of these stories decides what your people will or won’t do, and it does not matter what you say as a leader.”
In short, cultures are were the humans gather in business, with Slap stating that “if these cultures want something to happen then it will, but if they don’t, then it won’t.”
As the channel heads through an era of change, and culture attempts to change alongside, Slap insisted that despite managers or business owners being the subject of office stories, the way of the world dictates that they will never hear such tales of employee discontent.
“Learn to accept that you won’t hear one of those stories,” he cautioned.
Consequently, to build a thriving employee culture, Slap said managers must empower employees and humble themselves in the process.
“Don’t buy the cake, bake them the cake and if you can’t bake it means even more,” he said.
“The most bone headed act”
With his free-flowing American swagger filling the EDGE 2016 stage, Slap delved deep into the heart of the culture conversation, citing a recent example of how not to win over the workforce.
“There is good experience and there is bad experience and even though we all like to claim we are nibbling from the higher branches, at this point in our evolution, let’s face it, it's most likely the bad experiences that claim our attention,” he said.
Branding it as “the most bone headed act” in business, Slap outlined the strategy of Russian airline, Aeroflot, which rolled out a corporate policy called Smile Day.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a day when every employee is directed to smile at customers all day regardless of the situation.
“This policy is not only anti-business sense, it’s anti-common sense and therefore can only be interpreted as a noble act for others to take note of and learn how not to do things,” Slap said.
“It’s exactly this attitude of treating symptom over sickness that is responsible for the chronic ills that business faces today.
“The biggest problem is that solutions are not new solutions. The problems that continue to baffle managers at every level in every company are not really new problems.”
Slap said most strategies engulfing businesses today only look like success because they are being driven from behind by the next strategy.
Creating a culture
But while the channel can spend a lifetime talking about how business cultures work, the “channel doesn’t have a lifetime”, as Slap noted, outlining the bigger issue of the day.
“As a manager, what goals do you have for your business?” he questioned.
“Increased revenue, faster time to market, protected market share, world domination - now which employee could ever argue with the irrefutable logic of these corporate strategies?
“In a perfect world, people wouldn’t argue at all, they’d immediately grasp this logic and devote themselves wholeheartedly to achieving them.
“Well wake up, wipe the drool from your desk and say hi to reality, because real world neither business logic nor management authority will ever convince an employee culture to dedicate themselves to a corporate cause as if it were its own.”
For Slap, between the notion of company concept and employee commitment “lies many a failed strategic plan”.
“If you want your company to buy into and meet your goal, that’s fine, but you’ve got to know how to sell it to them,” he said.
“Knowing how to sell to an employee culture, and knowing how the culture works and how to work it is key.
“And it's not the responsibility of your employee culture to understand the business logic, it's the ability of the business to understand the logic of the employee culture.”
As a New York Times, Wall St. Journal and USA Today bestselling author, Slap said when people share the same basic lifestyle, workplace and traditions, they form as a culture.
“The purpose is to share the beliefs of the rules of survival and emotional prosperity, in an employee culture that means what does it take to survive in this company, in this industry and in this team working for you,” he observed.
“And in knowing that I’m basically going to be okay, how do I get rewarded emotionally? You may think if you’re a manager, how hard is it?
“Make your numbers and you’ll survive and we’ll even tell you you’re doing a great job, done.
“No not done. That only works for an employee culture if there’s a reliable line between what happens to the company and what happens to the culture, and that is rarely the case.”
If managers in the channel want an employee culture to support the business, Slap insisted that while “it will support you, you cannot bribe or bluff an employee culture”.
“The antenna of an employee culture works 24/7, it’s credibility detector is infallible, and perceptions are alarmingly accurate and it’s memory is elephantine, and you can’t tell a culture what to believe, you can’t stop a culture from existing or bully a culture,” he warned.
“But as a manager, you can take strong comfort from knowing that an employee culture is the ultimate rational organism."
As Slap explained, it just wants to understand the known rules of survival and emotional prosperity - it just wants those to be reliable.
“Your employee will give you anything you want, but you have to give it want it wants first,” he said.
“And it wants to know what are the reliable rules of survival and emotional prosperity. If you remember just that one thing, and you’ll be halfway home.”
EDGE is designed to bring the Australia and New Zealand channel together in a collaborative and educational environment, providing vendors, distributors and partners with the competitive advantage necessary to bring continued success in 2016 and beyond.