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~ Harsh Mariwala (Chairman Marico Ltd., Founder ASCENT Foundation)

Culture of an organisation is very ambiguous and very difficult to define. But I strongly believe that it’s a source of competitive advantage in an organisation. You can copy somebody’s product, you can copy somebody’s technology, but it is impossible to copy culture.

How to plan an organisation’s culture?

• Key is to have culture that is unique and which is actually going to help you with your business. First start by thinking about what in the culture is required to succeed in the kind of business you are in. Somebody may have a culture where individual stars may be required, and somebody may have a culture where a lot of teamwork is required.

• There is no point in copying some other organisation’s culture because it worked for them or because it appears cool.

• Involve the team in thinking about what culture the organisation should have.

• One part is identifying the culture that you require which will help the company to grow and then the other part is to plan how you will build that culture. And they are two completely separate things. Many organisations are good at identifying but ultimately their value document and is hanging at the reception and it just does not get translated into anything meaningful down the line.

Driving culture in an organisation is hard, but you have to do it.

• People have a lot of cynicism. It is easier to define the values, and ultimately if you go on practicing values, and if everybody starts practicing values on a regular basis, a certain culture will get formed within the organisation.

• People will start accepting that that’s the way things get done in an organisation. And that’s how people say “this is the culture of an organisation”, because normally this organisation behaves like this.

• Ultimately the backdrop of culture is the values. The first step should be to define the key values the organisation. And this is determined through an iterative process.

• To ensure it is well accepted, you need to involve people down the line. At least in the next 2-3 layers of management.

• Ideally gather people in groups of 10-20. Go outside the office environment, spend one day, and do it through a jointly involved process of values. You will have a higher degree of ownership on the values – Everybody will own those values. They will say these are our values, and they are not the MD’s values or whatever. And to me that’s very important because they are the ones who are actually going to take them down the line, and they are the ones who will actually set the examples by following those values.

Culture gets built when the leadership starts following that culture- when they walk the talk.

• E.g. if you say that you are going to work on meritocracy in the organisation, you have to set the first example. And the moment you deviate, the culture of meritocracy will be history. People have to consistently see you living the values and not break the values.

Implementing a value system that will become the culture

• Just sharing values is not going to help. You need to involve people. You need to get their buy in. And then you need to track them.

• So after defining our values, I went to all the locations and talked about the values. I explained why you are doing this. Talk to every single employee. May not be individually but in groups. But talk to all your employees – including the lowest employee. Use that opportunity to, through a group discussion dialogue, to find out what the gaps are and what we need to improve upon.

• The other challenge for the culture is when you recruit newer employees because they are not used to the culture. We spend one full day with a new employee why they need the culture, what are the values. (You will face this challenge even when you acquire another company). You have to spend time on this otherwise you will find that new employees are not at all connected to the culture.

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