What can your organization do about improving its culture? This is a topic of interest to board and management teams alike – the competitive advantage of a healthy culture is becoming more evident. Organizations see culture as a basis for attracting and retaining key talent, customers and business partners. The right culture also provides the basis of innovation and flexibility at a time when organizations need to be agile.

An unhealthy organizational culture could lead to detrimental consequences, such as low ability to respond to demanding situations, silo mentality, unwelcomed top-down relationships and control, slow decision-making, lack of strategic perspective, the lack of ability to grasp or create opportunity for growth.

What’s the desired organizational culture in ASEAN?

There is no one desired organizational culture in ASEAN, but many workplaces in the region bear similar characteristics – commanding respect based on seniority and a focus on cultivating employee loyalty, just to name a few. However, there are growing challenges in the global scene such as in areas of innovation, digitized lifestyle, generation gaps, cost competitiveness, world socio-economic rebalancing (with the recent election of the new US president) that may make ASEAN lose its competitive advantage.

Many ASEAN organizations are moving toward a high-performance culture that underpins organizational competitiveness through human asset to increase organization/shareholder value. The best way to build a sustained high-performing organization is through a two-fold intervention – the ‘hard’ part (organization development) and the ‘soft’ part (human capital development).

Instead of preserving the legacy of their past great successes, organizations in ASEAN are now beginning to transform themselves to become professional global business organizations. They want to learn, apply and adopt from the best in the world through benchmarking, reshaping operations and redesigning business and operating models. Through these initiatives, organizations wish to improve cost structure, define new people capability, developing talent pipeline and revamping total reward and performance management system, just to name a few. This is also why the organizations in Southeast Asia are shifting toward adopting a global culture – one that is void of cultural, geographical, or national diversity. This would be a common characteristic of most organizations in the near future, as it paves the way for cultivating innovation, agility, entrepreneurship, professionalism, ethics, social responsibility, etc.

What do you need?

A good starting point for a board or management team is to be clear on the existing culture and the core characteristics you need to retain. It is also important to recognize what you need for the future and identify the gaps between your current and desired culture.

Depending on the organization, this is usually overseen by the management, and the board at times. Either way, it is critical to align both the board and management on the desired culture as both play key roles in setting the tone of ‘how we do things around here’.

Once the desired culture is identified, the management or board can implement a plan to ‘shift’ the culture. This sometimes begins with quick wins (or more intensive work) of removing the most obvious barriers. For example, removing a policy that results in inflexibility of customer service and replacing it with values-based guidelines on how to best look after customers.

Often, the barriers to implementing a new culture are influential leaders who continue to behave in a way at odds with what the organization wants its culture and values to reflect. If the board and management are serious about culture shifts, they must not tolerate behavior that contradict the desired culture.

Culture shift

To ensure you shift your culture successfully, you need leaders and other influential colleagues to act in line with your values and what you stand for. All team members need to be developed, supported as well as have a clear understanding of their roles and how they need to work, engage with customers and behave differently to ensure the desired culture really does become ‘the new way we do things around here’.

Boards and management can ensure successful implementation by reinforcing policies, reward structures, customer strategies. These could help to hardwire a new culture and ensure it sticks.

Korn Ferry ’s tips for changing culture

  • Be clear on what needs to be fundamentally different and what needs to be retained: What is your ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ culture.
  • Remove the barriers to changing.
  • Make it happen by changing the actions and behaviors of leaders.
  • Make it stick by changing what you reinforce (e.g. organization policies, rewards) and help employees understand what the changed culture means for them.
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About the contributor

Satien Thedthong is a Senior Client Partner for Korn Ferry Advisory, Thailand. He is a human resource professional with over 20 years of experience. Satien has deep expertise in HR services, including Strategic HR, leadership and talent, people and organisation development, competency modelling, coaching, succession planning and development programs. He develops/enhances the effectiveness of organisations and people, establishes and implements HR strategies, and manages the overall corporate HR functions to most effectively meet business requirements.

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