Friday, 15 November 2019

Cultivating a Positive Company Culture in a Technology Business

Viewpoint from Steve Hodges, CEO, Astro Technology Group
Wednesday 23 October 19

The culture of an organisation is defined by the Chartered Management Institute as its “personality and character” made up of its “shared values, beliefs and assumptions” – I don’t disagree, however, the juxtaposition here in Technology businesses is that the aggregation of the typical personalities and character types of the ideal employees is often in conflict with values and beliefs that are in keeping with a positive workplace environment and a quality customer experience. Engineers can be incorrectly perceived as being insular, shy, and even grumpy and with the convergence of support and service delivery in our market we are trying to turn many of them into the customer facing “handshake of the company”. Not to be disparaging of your average techie (I am a closet geek), but the behaviours, attitudes and therefore assumptions that underpin the very thinking of an engineer very often contradict that of sales and marketing or customer service people…

The culture of an organisation is defined by the Chartered Management Institute as its “personality and character” made up of its “shared values, beliefs and assumptions” – I don’t disagree, however, the juxtaposition here in Technology businesses is that the aggregation of the typical personalities and character types of the ideal employees is often in conflict with values and beliefs that are in keeping with a positive workplace environment and a quality customer experience.

Engineers can be incorrectly perceived as being insular, shy, and even grumpy and with the convergence of support and service delivery in our market we are trying to turn many of them into the customer facing “handshake of the company”.

Not to be disparaging of your average techie (I am a closet geek), but the behaviours, attitudes and therefore assumptions that underpin the very thinking of an engineer very often contradict that of sales and marketing or customer service people, but we are more and more seeing the convergence of these skills in our day to day service delivery.

A possible ‘fix’ for this is only to employ super-engaging technical people, however, what you gain in one hand you very often lose in the other and therefore a process of nurture and development over people’s inherent nature is required; leadership becomes the ultimate tool in the armoury of building high performing, motivated and successful teams.

Over the last fifteen years, I have spent much of my time building and developing high-functioning teams in technical environments. It has been a mix of commercial teams, technical teams and leadership teams and in doing so I have employed more than my fair share of leadership techniques and Human Behavioural Sciences such as Transactional Analysis and Neuro Linguistic Programming. But at the heart of this activity has always been employing and maintaining the correct organisational culture.

The good news is that in reality, once you have agreed or decided what you want your culture to be, it is not all that complicated to instil and maintain that across organisations large or small. I believe the key areas of consideration are as follows:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Demonstration
  • Reiteration


Taking these in order I believe that by understanding how each member of the team or business thinks you can target your communication in accordance with how they like to receive information. Some people think engineers are argumentative or contrary, when very often they just want to understand “why not” before they will accept “why” (Necessity V’s Possibility thinking). Often technical people can be seen to be difficult and challenging when being asked to do something or conform to a way of working; but again, this is usually just because their brains are wired to need to understand a full picture before being able to digest the detail (Global to Specific Thinking or chunking down). All too often they focus on what might go wrong rather than what they can make right (Moving away from v’s moving towards thinking) before they can tackle an issue or present a solution. This is felt by many with traditional ‘leadership’ mind-sets to be bad, but in reality, it is what makes them brilliant at fault finding, designing solutions that work and making things better. Once this is comprehended, then the values and beliefs of the business can be communicated in a way that will be understood and accepted more broadly - then even propagated amongst those teams.

Secondly open, honest (brutally honest where required) and direct communication at every level of the business, about the type of business we want to be really benefits the “how people behave when no one is looking”. Another useful definition of company culture. By being open and direct you cut out the chance of misunderstanding and you negate the possibility of people going ‘off piste’ in terms of behaviours and developing habits that are not in keeping with the businesses desired culture. It needs to be constant and bought into by every member of the team, especially at Board, Management and Team Leadership level. Everyone likes to be communicated with, maybe in a style that suits their thinking, but everyone at every level need to repeatedly hear the same messages. Not in an annual CEO broadcast but constantly. More about this in point four.

Demonstration is very simple. “Eating your own dog food.”, “Walking the Walk”, “Leading by example”, call it what you like. It is utterly essential that the key advocates of the organisation culture demonstrate the behaviours that extol the organisation culture, all the time and VERY visibly. The moment you have a person who is adopting the “don’t do what I do, do what I tell you” approach. You are sunk. Fragmented cultural splinters will emerge, usually on a team by team basis, and the respect for the shared values erode. And this is, in my experience, very difficult to recover, often ending in having to remove otherwise very good members of the team because they have lost their synergy with the company culture.

Repetition, repetition, repetition! As mentioned above, talking about the values of the business and rewarding supporting behaviours that help build the company culture isn’t something that is done once a year at a company presentation or in a quarterly staff incentive meeting. It needs to be constant and ongoing; in board meetings, management meetings, team meetings, 121’s etc. The underpinning thought process to every situation should be “is the outcome of this conversation in keeping with our organisational character and the sort of personality we want to engender.” Those things are for every business to decide. Astro’s personality is open, honest, friendly and engaging, with high levels of technical competency and professional credibility. I would like to think that whatever decisions we make on a macro level around recruiting and training, down to individual decisions people have to make unsupervised, around support activity or customer engagement, are done with these fundamentals in mind. I also believe very passionately that every member of the team, from first line to board members, administrators to project managers, and in no way least but certainly including the cleaners, go about their businesses wanting to demonstrate these most, if not all, of the time.

While it is true that a lot of thought, consideration and action goes into installing, developing and maintaining the guiding principles, I believe they really are very simple.

Astro are a finalist for the first ever Culture Change Award, sponsored by Zenith Choice, at the 2019 World Communication Awards. View the shortlist at www.worldcommsawards.com 

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