Culture: the elusive path to business success

Imagine the ultimate success story: a business, an organizational strategy that is guaranteed to win in the market, and then of course, the right people who make it all happen. Like most things, this is more easily said than done. What keeps the typical HR practitioner up at night is: how do we ensure we have the right people to successfully deliver on the business strategy?

Sustaining a culture and embedding it within the organization is as important as defining it.

But, according to Sumantra Ghoshal, late Professor from the London Business School, that is the wrong question to ask. Rather, he claims: revitalizing talent has a lot less to do with changing people, but a lot more to do with the context – or the culture – that the organization, the management team and the people themselves create and contribute to.

“Taking on a cultural transformation is no small feat,” says Shirley Zinn, graduate from Harvard University, Faculty at Duke Corporate Education and Extraordinary Professor at University of Pretoria. “Culture goes beyond capturing the minds of employees, but captures their values, their beliefs, their hearts. It is ultimately what drives behavior. And that behavior needs to support the strategic objectives of the firm, in order to result in business success.”

Zinn adds, “It is not enough to define what behaviors are required to achieve the strategy. The behaviors that need to be unlearned, and cannot be tolerated, also need to be defined.”

The article explores how EY Africa set about uniting its 33 separate country units in an ambitious undertaking. Each unit had its own cultures, languages and operations. The need to create an organizational culture to support the company’s strategic objectives was quickly apparent.

“Our purpose at EY is to build a better working world for our people, our clients and our communities,” says Ajen Sita, EY Africa CEO. “Our ambition is to be the most distinctive professional services firm in Africa. We wanted to create an environment where our people felt supported and empowered in delivering on our strategic objectives.”

With the approach that was used, it was the people of EY Africa who defined what culture they were willing to embrace in order to meet their company’s strategic objectives. This approach also addressed not only behaviors that needed to be learned, but those that needed to be unlearned – all the while creating commitment from the people from the start of the process.

“Africa’s social systems, beliefs and cultures are as diverse as its peoples and as disparate as its climates,” says Seshni Samuel, EMEIA Talent Leader. “While ‘Our EY’ gave us the opportunity and platform to unite our people across the continent, the success of this initiative lies in its versatility to still be impactful in each country, even as each harnesses hundreds of different societies with their own laws and languages. Our EY is EY Africa’s culture that helps bring out the best of our people.”

The complete article was written by:

  • Seshni Samuel
    EMEIA Talent Leader EY, South Africa
  • Joya Appadu
    Senior Manager Organizational Development EY, South Africa

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