16 Mar Culture club
Global Opportunity 2015 | Vector
From building a government to helping with baggage, Alan Stevens of Vector Consultants believes understanding the people and identity of an organisation can be crucial to its success
To understand the culture of an organisation is to understand the organisation itself. This culture affects every member of staff, from the boardroom down to the junior employees, and impacts how business is carried out on a daily basis. Often companies can espouse their mission statement or projected values, but this does not necessarily equal the true identity of the organisation. Culture within organisations links departments, strategy and major issues and the comprehension of it can hold the key to success.
Vector Consultants are experts in organisational and national culture, and have worked across the globe helping organisations evolve their complex systems in the light of cultural analysis.
This understanding can lead to a successful merger, increased efficiency or a smooth change between systems. Alan Stevens, Director of Global Consulting at Vector, is convinced that the majority of issues can be comprehended by considering how the staff interact with each other and the systems around them.
Vector Consultants not only work with large multi-national companies but also governments and ministerial organisations across the globe. One of the more fascinating examples of their work was in Macedonia in 1991 after the break up of Yugoslavia.
The new nation was formed very quickly, and as such it did not have the infrastructure in place to deal with the numerous problems that a new nation faces.
Macedonia has three distinct ethnic groups, the Albanian, Serbian and Roma population, and there was a worry that without a functioning judicial system there would be significant civil disruption between them.
Funded by the US government, Vector helped to establish a Macedonian Ministry of Justice that was impartial to each of those ethnic groups. Alan Stevens, who worked on the project, emphasises the importance of the work.
“We had to work very quickly to prevent the wrong people from filling the vacuum of authority. We were determined to create a judicial system based on equality and fairness, which did not treat the different ethnic groups differently.
The best of the British system was utilised, but we also considered the traditional culture of the region as well.”
Thoroughness is key in any attempt to fully understand the culture of an organisation. This typically begins with a series of interviews, focus groups, observations and document reviews to truly understand what makes an organisation unique. Vector makes a conscious effort to interact with every member of staff, not just the decision-makers and Directors.
“We try and meet as many people as time allows,” explains Alan Stevens. “We feel that the more people contribute to the process then the more interventions and improvements can be made throughout the organisation.
People care passionately about the organisation they work for, and so are very receptive to an independent person trying to understand their work.” The whole research process takes a maximum of six weeks to stop staff from becoming cynical and to ensure that their opinions have a direct impact on the changes.
The work Vector undertook in Macedonia was a great success, and as such the Ministry has become a benchmark for countries facing similar issues. Since then Vector has replicated its success across the globe, particularly in the Middle East where Vector has helped the governments of both Yemen and Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia has a very young and emerging population,” says Alan Stevens.
“The leaders recognised that their ministries needed to be strengthened in order to utilise this new work force so wider society could benefit from the wealth in the country. Part of our role was diagnostic; part coaching the staff and developing the ministries.”
This focusing of managerial practices is not restricted to governments but can be extended to commercial entities. Emerging markets need expertise to flourish, and South-East Asia is one of the most exciting emerging markets on the globe. “At the moment we are working to increase organisational efficiency and effectiveness, particularly in managerial roles. The response has been absolutely fantastic; they soak up every piece of knowledge and apply it in the workplace.”
Vector has been working closely with the delivery company TNT in the region. “We try and bring some consistency to how their diverse locations operate. The particular focus is how they can negotiate and operate more effectively with the airlines and airports to drive greater benefit for the company, particularly after their acquisition by FedEx.”
This project by Vector further highlights the thoroughness of their work. “As part of the diagnostic process I spent the night with some of my colleague and the team unloading parcels and packages from the aeroplanes. To fully understand a company and their staff we have to live their world.”
Culture can often be something of a fluid word, with the boundaries between cultures far from clear-cut. Predominantly Vector is emphasising that organisational and commercial success can be found through a better understanding of people.
An organisation has a working culture, but the culture of the nation in which it is based always plays a significant part in influencing how business is carried out.
The assumption of practices is very dangerous when analysing any organisation, particularly in the complex and ever evolving world we now live. “There can be extreme granularity within organisations. For example, when we were working for General Motors in the US you could not know before you entered if a factory was going to be Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic or Asian in culture. Getting to know the staff and challenging cultural assumptions is key to adding value.”