Monthly Archives: April 2015

Leaders Drive Culture. Culture Drives People. People Drive Business.

The more our company grows, the more I realize how crucial culture is to our success.  We are in a service business.  As we grow, I personally interact with fewer and fewer of our clients on a regular basis.  So, how do I ensure that the people who do interact with our clients treat them as I would have treated them?  The answer is “culture.”

Leaders Drive Culture.  Culture is set by expectations and training, but mostly it is set by example and rewards.  Company leaders, especially the CEO, set culture.  What do they celebrate?  What do they value?  What do they punish?  How do they treat clients, vendors and employees?  What do they preach?  What are their actions (which speak louder than words)?  Finally, do they have a method for hiring people who not only fit the culture but can promote it?  Company leaders set the culture.  So, they must be able to articulate it and consciously promote it every day.

Culture Drives People.  Culture is crucial.  More than rules, training or speeches, culture provides the guardrails for accepted and desired behavior in an organization.  Businesses are small societies that develop their own mores and expectations.  These mores and expectations become understood and ingrained in the members of this micro-society (i.e., employees).  Their actions reflect the culture of their shared society.  Thus, the established culture (mores and expectations) drives their behavior.

People Drive Business.  We are a service business that happens to be in the technology space.  Our clients depend on our people to be excellent at what they do and to treat everyone with the respect and professionalism they deserve.  Without people a business cannot exist.  Without people doing the right things, a business dies.  Without culture, people don’t know how to act or make decisions, especially when the “handbook” doesn’t apply.  Simply, culture gives employees context for acting.

Sometimes we take culture for granted.  A very small business derives culture by osmosis from its founder.  A larger business must take culture seriously.  As a business grows, leaders must be intentional about developing and maintaining a culture that gives all employees the context they need to make the right decisions that promote the business and project the brand.  Otherwise, inconsistency and individual personality will rule and the business will flounder.

MR is at a Social Responsibility Crossroads

We have come to a crossroads. Which way shall we go?

At the Market Research Society Conference in March, Research-Live.com reported that Unilever CEO Paul Polman urged the industry to get involved in larger societal issues. He stated that we are in a “leadership moment for the market research profession” and that “by prioritising social issues, business success will follow.” Mr. Polman challenged the audience to realize that “business as usual is not the answer.”

Historically, “business as usual” dictated that a corporation should generate increasing earnings for its shareholders. With some exceptions, the view was that the shareholders’ used the earnings in whatever manner they preferred, including gifts to charity or affecting the societal issues of the day. The business focused on earning profits; shareholders were responsible for distributing/spending profits.

For several years now, we have heard about the Millennial workforce’s desire for an activist workplace where volunteering and social activism were valued.  Now, we hear the CEO of the world’s third largest CPG company stating that social issues ‘lead to’ (rather than ‘are a result of’) business success.  Mr. Polman suggests that corporations have a social responsibility first and a shareholder responsibility second.  Mr. Polman appears to have a two-fold purpose:  (1) to activate companies to be more socially responsible, and, (2) to use social responsibility as a strategy leading to greater business success.  Both are significant diversions from the traditional role of companies.

So, which road shall we take?  Should companies (and researchers) continue to focus almost exclusively on providing increasing returns to shareholders or should they take the road less traveled and put first priority on being socially responsible?  Each company (and researcher) must decide for itself.  The two options are distinctly different.  Which way will you choose?

Paul Polman’s raising of this issue coincides with another industry initiative to bring a sense of community and social activism to the MR industry. In January, a group of researchers formed the Marketing Research Education Foundation (MREF).  It is an independent foundation with a mission to, “To unifyinspire and activate the marketing research community to focus its collective resources to educate children worldwide.”  Founding Board members are:  Steve Schlesinger, Carla Lindeman, Ed Sugar, Steve Quirk, Don Marek, Howard Gershowitz and myself.

MREF debuted at the Quirks Event in Brooklyn in February where it presented a check for $5000 to Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to the training and education of disadvantaged youth.  This was a small but significant start.  Plans are to repeat this at other conferences and to bring researchers together in hands-on volunteer opportunities to further the education of children worldwide.  You will hear more about this initiative in the coming weeks.

Whether you are Unilever or a home-based researcher, the prioritization of social responsibility is a decision you will have to make.  You are at a crossroads.  Which road will you take?

 

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