Soccer team in a huddle

Cooking Up Change: Exploring the Taste of Company Culture

June 24, 2016 by Leonie Fremgen 22

The food sector, it turns out, is a particularly fruitful topic for exploring the changing world of work.

The culinary world is setting new standards. Food has moved from pure necessity to iconic symbol. While always deeply embedded in local culture, in recent years food has become available on a global level. Kitchens have transformed from dark, Tayloristic places to decorative art. They are not merely used as a space to cook and bake. Kitchens now encourage social interaction in families, they house party guests and entertain. Kitchens display social status and they even turn into offices. Eating has metamorphosed into a sensual experience. Instead of a hand-to-mouth experience, cooking is now considered to be a full-fledged hobby and means of self-expression, as illustrated by the sheer number of food blogs, magazines and TV shows.

Despite the paradoxical situation of less time used for preparing fresh food, but at the same time a growing trend towards locally grown, organically produces and global cuisines, there is a growing cultural understanding of the culinary world. One can unquestionably refer to a new culinary culture.

The situation is similar in the business world. Companies wanting to stay innovative have started tackling their culture. New work and innovation culture are on everyone´s lips, no longer limited to the allegedly trendy start-up scene.

According to Austrian-born founder of modern management, Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Being perfectly aware of the many contradictory voices to his quote, I do not want to undermine the importance of pursuing an integrated and sustainable strategic focus within the company. However, too often a company´s strategy is ineffective due to missing alignment with the ingrained culture. Management executives tend to overlook the importance of organizational culture, stating they have bigger fish to fry. To avoid this disconnect, you have to understand that our culture decisively shapes the way we behave as a social community and sets the stage for how people interact. In a business context, it operationalizes company values, customs and traditions and translates them into a guiding framework for decision-making and interaction within the company. In short, it forms a company´s essential personality and will always leave the sturdiest aftertaste.

Despite correlating with industrialization and technical innovation, cultural change usually drags behind technological change. Translated to a business context, this means that companies wanting to remain innovative should carefully consider a transformation in their organizational culture. Initially, it may seem paradox that a digitalization and more connected world triggers a humanization of work. Still, a creative mindset, social skills and independent thinking have turned into key assets of success. A coherent operational framework forms the breeding ground for radically new ideas.

So what´s the recipe for an innovative work culture? Wake up and smell the coffee. Become aware of your surroundings and do a reality check. What practices and values exist? Instead of asking where you want to grow, ask yourself who you want to be and what you want to be great at. No company is alike, so the following ingredients can only be considered to be the staples, which should always be available in your pantry. With different composition and herbs and spices, the flavor on the plate will change.

 

The Head Cook’s New Role or New Role for the Head Cook

Just as any chef in a professional kitchen needs to be more of a coach, management executives should be too. What connects a new generation of leaders, is their absolute love for people. They enjoy nurturing and shaping the further development of their employees. They recognize that people are the most central asset for the company. They even seem to magically stroke their team. The creation of an egalitarian cultures with flat hierarchies cultivates an environment of trust and truthfulness. Increasingly, executives regard their employees as individual leadership personality. Of course there is no one true style of management within the same team. But overall, the best leaders have moved from delegating decision-makers to brainstorming partners, development coaches and mentoring guides.

Diverse Cooks Pimp the Broth

Culture has to be thought through from hiring to operations. Seeing that variety is the spice of life, create a team with a wide-ranging mix of talents, experience levels, age and background. Choose people who did not wander along traditional or short paths, but took detours along the way. Such varying perspectives are the bread and butter for coming up with innovative ideas. In addition, diversity triggers mindfulness about differences. In order to evaluate whether potential new hires are a good fit to the team, get as many employees as possible involved in the recruiting process. They can best assess whether the new hires share team values or do not and will thus either reinforce the company´s culture or erode it, respectively.

A Guidance a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Fostering an environment where employees feel cared about and trusted should be your primary focus. Openness and feedback are key to encourage such an atmosphere. Feedback in this context includes both constructive criticism and meaningful positive praise, encouraging growth and development. They must be organically interwoven with daily routines to become part of the company culture. Overall, a positive, respectful and kind atmosphere leads to the feeling of appreciation.

Everyone Bakes His Own Bread

People are highly motivated when they have enough freedom to grow and develop. Within the organizational culture, provide scope for development and encourage employees to follow their unique passions. This could mean to have a guided mechanism of project distribution and staffing. Or dedicate certain days per month on which the staff can work on non-job related projects or brainstorm new ideas together. While professional training opportunities should be granted, try to additionally focus on team development rather than individual development. Provide the freedom to mutually learn from each other and grow as a team.

All Great Parties End in the Kitchen

While your dish may taste the same whether it´s been cooked on a stove in a dirty six square meter storage room or in a fully equipped open kitchen in a palace, the experience differs completely from the cook´s perspective. Space has an emotional importance for everyone who works in it. Just as the kitchen crew will come up with creative combinations in inspiring surroundings, the same applies for every company. When designing office spaces, never underestimate the way environments shape the way we work. Open collaborative spaces, flexible furniture, quiet zones and game nooks are just a few examples that will outnumber traditional work cubicles.

 

Do Lunch or Be Lunch

Why should you as a company even adapt the way you cook or the flavors you use? The answer is simple: palates are changing and with them, the demands for your cooked food. Agile and creative, intrinsically motivated and energetic future employees have different taste buds. If you want to bring home the bacon (or else: if you want to hire such people), you have to carefully consider your company´s culture and provide them with a higher order of meaning. Employees require a meaningful job with a purpose. The power of why we work here has become one of the most crucial elements of choice.

Never Put All Your Eggs in the Culture Basket

Changing a company´s identity is no piece of cake. Changing a company´s strategy isn´t either. Both changes take time and should not be considered by themselves. Instead of having culture consuming strategy for breakfast, have them nurture each other. In other words, a strategic focus is still important for achieving success. However, a company’s strategy must be aligned with the core values and guiding principles. While the above-mentioned ingredients form the pantry staples, it is now your task to define the mixing ratio, choose additional spices and prepare side dishes. Everyone can cook, so put your apron on!

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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