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Exploring Cultural Transformation with Landor

Culture in the workplace is an elusive yet all-encompassing concept.  It can be hard to define, cultivate and measure, but most business leaders would agree it’s vital to the success of any marketing department or company.  This week’s event tackled just that; hosted in collaboration with brand consulting and design firm Landor, the session revealed new research that demonstrates how organisational culture influences bottom line, with leading regional 'unicorn' panelists from Careem and Flyadeal providing insights on their own experiences with cultural transformation.

So, what can we learn from these ‘unicorns’? The research identified four common practices when it comes to developing and cultivating a winning culture:

  1. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Avoid jargon, corporate speak if you want to inspire and motivate your people.
  2. Leaders lead, culture follows. Leaders don’t just lead by example, they own it and show people how they need to behave, starting with the CEO.
  3. Involve employees, don’t ‘engage’ them. Many companies fail because they push initiatives that create a short-lived spike in engagement because they’re targeted ‘at’ employees rather than truly involving them.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You can’t over communicate when it comes to culture, and not just on a need to know basis. Consider also using innovative communication and collaboration tools.

For Careem, who have grown from a regional ride-hailing app with a handful of people a mere four years ago to a Super App with 1000s of staff, which was recently acquired by Uber in a multi-million dollar deal. Their philosophy was inspired by the strong values and purpose of the founders. Some of the initiatives that define their winning culture include a ‘raising the bar’ committee of brand ambassadors, whose sole responsibility is to uphold the culture. These culture bearers routinely go beyond looking at the cultural fit of potential candidates looking to join the team at Careem, to asking ‘where does this person raise the bar and where do they not?’. Initiatives like these, says Aura Lunde, Director of Organisational Performance at Careem, demonstrate a defined set of values that provide a common way of approaching complex decisions and empower colleagues to do things in the ‘Careem way’, which has been one of their keys to success.

When low-cost Saudi airline Flyadeal was born in 2016, the small leadership team spent a lot of time thinking about both the brand and culture they wanted to create and decided their purpose had to genuinely demonstrate transparency and accessibility.  Head of Marketing and Digital Pete Lysak candidly admitted that he believes it’s not about what you say you’re going to do, it’s about what works in practice which you can then develop into concrete sets of behaviours, initiatives and rituals that define your unique culture.

The session sparked an interesting debate, with many in the audience revealing frustrations and challenges they are facing in redefining organizational culture at older, more established businesses that are tied to outdated practices and behaviours. For me, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to establishing a winning culture, but the correlation between organisational culture and the bottom line can no longer be disputed. Maybe it’s time to move away from superficial, short-term ‘employee engagement’ initiatives to truly embracing organizational culture in a way that embodies a company’s values and purpose to positively impact both employee happiness and business results.


By Rachel Dunn, Marketing Society Middle East Board Member, Deputy Managing Director Weber Shandwick Dubai