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For more than 35 years, we at Pragati Leadership have been helping companies align their people-development initiatives with their corporate goals. From time to time, we connect with business leaders to get their insights into what makes an organisation succeed and, more importantly, how their culture contributes to their success story. With this vision in mind, we started our Fireside Chat Series to gain perspectives from industry leaders on corporate leadership.

In our a recently held discussion, Rajkumari Achtani, Consultant and Facilitator at Pragati Leadership, discussed with Shivalika Patil, Head of People Practices at Sudarshan Chemical, how workplace culture can help businesses achieve operational excellence.

Centred around the belief espoused by legendary management consultant Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, the chat spotlighted approaches crucial to an organisation’s overall health and competitiveness. Rajkumari Achtani moderated the session by touching on how the pandemic forced corporate leaders to rethink their business models and ways of working.

A company with a global presence, Sudarshan Chemical credits its far-reaching success to its Indian roots and guiding principles undergirding its corporate culture. Shivalika Patil shared how the company, through the decades, has revisited and reimagined core cultural values so that they dovetail with changing business strategies.

Here are some key takeaways from the session:

Organisational success is directly proportional to inter-departmental trust.

Culture is the human glue that keeps the organisation going. It’s an assemblage of larger organisational purpose, attitudes, values, and unspoken rules that work toward supporting and perpetuating a shared goal. Now at its advanced phase of strategic evolution, Sudarshan Chemical, a 70-year-old colour solution provider, envisions becoming a market leader. As Patil explains, the company set the plan in motion by identifying its core values – people first in a joyful environment, collaboration & teamwork, execution excellence & agility, and embracing change for transformation.

These core values are cultivated throughout the organisation using a culture of interdependence, transparency, and inclusivity. As a result, not only the higher management, but also the junior employees work in sync to achieve organisational growth and take it further on the path of success. 

Organisations, like organisms, are not an amalgam of parts but processes, behaving as a network of systems that grows, adapts, and evolves. Their survival depends on their functioning as a cohesive and synergistic unit. Through intercommunication and interchange, they rely on their sub-systems to anticipate changes in the environment. 

Business success depends on how strong your cultural values are.

Strong corporate culture is one of the few sustainable drivers that will take a business into the future. We learn this from Sudarshan Chemical as they employ tangible means to make their overarching intangible purpose of “Spiritually Fulfilled, Socially Just and Environmentally Sustainable”—more credible and enforceable.

For example, every staff member is encouraged to take a customised Art of Living workshop regardless of seniority. This not only imbues a sense of SEVA (service) towards customers but also cultivates a sense of community among the people. The goal of cultural transformation is to uphold company values that define its DNA whilst ensuring its deep assimilation through precedent-setting, role-modelling, and training.  

Healthy corporate culture emerges as key people practices undergo timely overhauls.

For the desired workplace culture to take shape, it’s vital for the values and defined behaviours to percolate throughout people’s processes. From hiring to performance management, rewards & recognition to upskilling & development, every key human element needs to be assessed and modified to allow new ideas to become cultural mainstays.

At Sudarshan Chemical, as Patil notes, managers are appraised against critical cultural values. It ensures that the beliefs and mindsets are ingrained across the board. From an appreciation viewpoint, the company publishes a newsletter highlighting the stories of staff members demonstrating its cultural pillars. Such activities show that organisational cohesion and consonance can be attained with the right reinforcement mechanisms.

Culture change is a marathon, not a sprint.

A uni-directional, command-centric leadership style is often counterproductive to cultural transformation. When it comes to creating a dynamic, multi-faceted value-driven culture, it all begins with the leaders at the top. They must live the values and exemplify the mindset they wish to promote and permeate.

With this idea in view, Sudarshan Chemical, a GPTW-certified (Great Place to Work) organisation, has carved an internal leadership framework that places a premium on communication, gratitude, collaboration, and inclusion. It has hugely helped promulgate the conditions for new culture formation and provides structure and meaning to the invisible behavioural paradigm.

Cultural transformation is a gradual process instrumental to an organisation’s success. However, it can’t happen overnight and entails months of learning, unlearning, upskilling, rethinking, and recalibrating. The organisation must function like an organism for the new norms, behavioural patterns, and thought processes to take root. In a nutshell, the organisation needs to work with renewed energy and vigour as a single, cohesive entity wherein the inner sub-systems feed off each other’s collective knowledge, skills, and experiences to evolve, sustain, improve, and grow.

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