The Formula for a Successful Workplace Culture

In 1984 when bti ltd was incorporated, my only assets were an engineering degree and an unimpressive bank account which every month had much more debits than credits. There was an urgency to start making profits. I had no business plan or strategy; any project which would make the bank balance go north was a fair proposition. The only guiding principle was that the venture had to be fully legitimate and that every stakeholder directly or indirectly involved with it should be treated fairly and equitably. Fresh out of engineering university after four gruelling years I was still suffering from PGSD (Post-graduation stress disorder). I used to do Vector Analysis in my sleep and have nightmares about Mr. Small, my dreaded professor of Thermodynamics. I had no idea about business management theories but in defining this guiding principle I had unknowingly articulated the first “Core Value” of the company. Over the years bti has grown and evolved but I am proud to say that the first core value of “Honesty, Integrity and High Moral Values” remains a bedrock of our business philosophy to this day.

As the company grew, people from different backgrounds joined the company. While business flourished, I felt that there was a major problem in the organization. Apart from making profits we did not have any other purpose for our existence. This brought some people with mercenary attitudes into the company which made the working environment toxic and constantly put a strain on my original concept of maintaining high ethical values in the conduct of business. I also realized that most of the employees had a strong value system and working for a company which was just focused on making profits did not give them a sense of pride and joy. With no clearly defined set of values and people with differing ideologies working together created rifts and questions were raised about what is the right or wrong way of doing things. I realized that the resolution of this dichotomy did not fall within the purview of entrepreneurship. This was a management issue and addressing it would require expertise and knowledge of organizational management which I did not possess. After many gruelling years of learning management the hard way, I now believe that entrepreneurs should not put on the manager’s hat. Entrepreneurship and management are very distinct roles and there is no guarantee that a good entrepreneur would also be a good manager or vice versa. An entrepreneur’s role should be to start a business and then appoint competent managers to run the business while the entrepreneur does what he is supposed to do. Start a new business. Coming to this conclusion has taken me many years. At that time, not having the benefit of this hindsight, I took it upon myself to acquire knowledge about the mysterious world of organizational management. Over the years I have read hundreds of books and articles on the different aspects of management and have become so passionate about it that I now consider myself more of a manager than an entrepreneur.

After deep contemplation I concluded that our organization was lacking a Culture. Culture is the glue that keeps an organization united. It is the silent code of conduct. It defines how things are done in the organization. A company’s culture is probably its biggest asset and is like its immune system which protects it from any wrong thinking or practice and indeed wrong people being a part of the company. An organization’s culture should be an extension of the ideology of the founder(s). Establishing a genuine culture where the organization practices what it preaches is a pre-requisite if there are long term or even intergenerational aspirations for the enterprise.

The foundation of the organization’s culture are its core values. These are the deeply ingrained principles that are the company’s moral compass and form the cornerstone of its Culture. In bti we have six Core Values-

Win the customer’s heart.
Work hard and strive to be the best.
Maintain an entrepreneurial spirit
Respect, develop and empower our human resource
Honesty, integrity and high moral values.
Speed in work and fighting bureaucracy.

These core values tell us clearly what the company stands for and what is considered right or wrong in our culture. Our employees do not need constant help and hand holding by their seniors in decision making. Everyone is told that the guideline for making a decision on any complex matter is best found in the core values of the company and employees are rewarded for demonstrating the company’s core values. For example, our first core value is to Win the Customer’s heart. We must therefore never let the need for profits cloud our judgement about fair dealings with our customers. Culture is not built in a day; culture emanates from the steadfast commitment from every member of the company to live by the core values of the company. The culture of the organization is strengthened by the many stories of the employees practicing the different core values.

Every employee of bti from top to the bottom must be able to recite the six core values. Any new employee must first know the core values by heart before he is handed the appointment letter. Over the years many employees have been terminated because of violations of the core values. Some of them were star performers. This importance given to the core values has made it clear to everyone that no matter who you are the core values and the culture of the company is more important than you.

Apart from the core values, our culture also has other clearly understood features. bti has three VIPs. In the order of hierarchy, the most important VIP is the customer. The second most important VIP is the employee and the third most important VIP is the shareholder. We have open town hall type meetings where employees are encouraged to point out any deficiency the company may have and thoughts on how to make bti a better place to work. We also have a clear understanding that bti is a place for excellence and therefore there is no room for non performers. The practice of hiring and firing for non performance is very much a part of our culture and we do not shy away from admitting the practice of this controversial concept.

It was about twenty years ago that a formal initiative was taken to make a Vision statement which defined our long term objective and a Mission statement which tells us the overarching purpose of our existence. At the same time we also spelled out our core values which were the seeds of our culture. Over the past twenty years every manager in the company has made it his or her sacred duty to nurture and strengthen the company’s culture of which we are all ever so proud. Our culture has united us and brought out the best in us during times of adversity. For any organizational leader the greatest success is in establishing a lasting culture. The company’s balance sheet will see good days and bad days. It is the culture of the company that sustains the legacy of the leader.

Comments (22)
  • Excellent writing sir….In bti we have six Core Values and we can try to properly follow those core values in our daily life. Truly says your every article is so practical and very helpful for our professional life.
    Regards#Imtiaz,CTG.

    • Lots of Zajakumullah khair

    • Good.

  • I agree with you. A corporate culture which evolves through the thick and thin of the company’s existence becomes the most valuable asset for its continued success and advancement.

  • Great article indeed! You have pointed out a very important aspect of corporate culture – the company culture. You have presented this in a very simple way. Thank you for sharing the core values of BTI, which the company has followed over the years, very strictly. This definitely is the foundation of successful BTI. Hats off to your strong leadership! Best wishes!

    • Had an really excellent journey !

  • Thanks a lot for writing the article.I do agree that I found in bti, which I applied in my profession.

  • Culture would actually establish ultimate bondage amongst the three VIPs of the company. Entrepreneurs’ dream come into reality when the company rests upon good hands who believes in culture and its legacy to take it forward. Thank you sir for sharing such important topic in critical time.

  • During my job in BTI from 2007 to 2012 , I found the company as a Culture based one.
    BTI afford to ensure adequate time, trainings, regular practice and monitoring on its culture in every sector of its business and for all its employees & stakeholder regardless the position.

  • I always enjoy your articles and I thank you for them. I would love to have a follow up on your article where u wrote about the current state of affairs in the real estate sector of Bangladesh. I am looking to buy a flat with my inheritance and I am afraid partly because of the fear of the unknown so it would be of huge help

  • Interesting. Every successful business has created a culture to nurture the growth of their respective company. It is interesting to learn about your company’s culture which has fostered the growth bti.

  • Excellent writings and the company has real principle for dealing with people who may be the customers or not. I am sure your company will run with reasonable benefit all the times to come. Wish your good luck always.
    Dr. S. M. Nazrul Islam
    Ex-Director, Research, Training and Evaluation
    Livestock Research Institute (LRI)
    Mohakhali, Dhaka ,
    President, Bangladesh Veterinary Association (BVA) and
    National Consultant, The Renata Ltd.

  • Six core values and three VIP’s and the distinction between an entrepreneur and a manager are the highest learning terms for any company. Difference in ideology occurs among the professional managers and owners of the companies, while decisions are imposes over rather than taken by a participatory approach. A big meeting hall, opinions of root level stakeholders and giving priority to the three VIP’s only possible when company owners honor the professionalism over the ownership. And the bureaucracy can’t be exist with the ideology of sharing the authority along with responsibilities. A very big salute to you sir!

    kind regards

    khalil

  • Business on principle always open to door to success. Integrity is the most important ethical concept because it covers such a broad area. If we act with integrity, ethical behavior is just a natural progression. Those who have integrity are guided by a set of core principles that influences their decisions and behaviors. People with integrity value other principles, including honesty, respect, personal responsibility, compassion, and dependability. Heartiest thanks to our honorable Sir for the initiatives of business on principle.

  • What a writing sir! Just glued myself for a while. Thanks a lot.

  • Thank you sir for writing such a great article.

  • A well-argued, thoughtful essay on the distillation and functioning of a corporate culture for benefit of both company and stakeholders. The ability to transcend the need for bank balance and embrace a Culture for sustenance of the company through good and bad times is a rare gift. Thank you for sharing this with the world. I hope you keep writing down your thoughts and wisdom earned through years of hard work so others can benefit.

  • Well said sir even 6 core values! This can be a quote ‘Culture is the glue that keeps an organization united’.

  • sir your 6 core value is great for any organization, even could be a quote ‘Culture is the glue that keeps an organization united’

  • What a fantastic article ! I am overwhelmed !! Why not anybody presented earlier so that I could follow in my early age !! I am frustrated with most of my employees not been able to establish corporate culture being worked ceaselessly to maintain “Ethics & Ethical standard” in my business.
    Kindly continue ur presentation. Thanks a lot Sir,

  • The article unfolds the endeavor and the accomplishment of the author in creating a congenial workplace environment and a culture of long lasting relationship business involving the customers, the employee and the shareholders. Being a beneficiary of bti culture I’d like to share my experience of bti culture with the readers of this blog.

    bti Culture covers Vision, Mission, Core Values, 5- enemies of Unity, Code of Conduct, Company Policies, My Research, My Ideas, Critical Number, Implementation of Departmental and Organizational Priorities and Goals.

    bti culture, as it is today, has been developed over the years of radiant direction of the leadership and the vigorous practice by its family members.

    The cornerstone of bti culture is its Vision: “To Provide Viable Housing Solution to all Segment of Our Society”. All other facets of bti culture, e.g. Mission, Core Values, Quality Policy, Brand Promise, Business Strategy, have been derived from the Vision as enabling objectives to materialize the Vision and achieving the Mission: “ To Make Homeownership a Joyful Experience”.

    Interestingly, bti culture is characterized by a kind of Trinity: The Customer (Number 1 VIP), The Employee (Number 2 VIP) and in that order the Shareholders (Number 3 VIP). Prudently, this is an essential makeup of a world-class organization. Truly, I find this order of priority in bti culture. This unique feature has made bti an excellent customer centric organization in the real estate development sector of Bangladesh.

    Quality and on-time delivery are the two important factors a land owner or a flat buyer values most irrespective of their class and position in the society. bti being a customer centric organization regards customers most and makes their demand value stream. I see with great pleasure that bti customers speak for bti and they bring new customers for bti. What an amazing reliance and trust customers have on bti!!

    bti rigorously peruses the policy of empowering its people. At bti, the employees are working in a congenial atmosphere with creative mind and flexibility giving their best for customers’ satisfaction, professional growth and personal development of their own, and eventually contributing to the advancement of their beloved Company. The employees have developed an entrepreneurial spirit for bti as their own organization.

    The latest inclusion in the bti culture is the adoption of Lean Concept in its business process applying Kaizen Philosophy. bti family members are already accustomed with the Lean notion and they are practicing it in their daily activities. Formation of Business Teams (BTs) is the outcome of bti’s Lean journey. Lean endeavor is making bti thin by removing wastage and improving efficiency.

    Lean Concept: Remove Waste and Improve Efficiency; Continuous Improvement.

    Kaizen Philosophy: Kai means Change, Zen means Better; Change for the Better.

    Amid lots of corporate bodies in the country very few have culture in true sense and seldom practice a healthy corporate culture. Generously, bti is keen to turning its people into a knowledge-based society by facilitating them to study and participate in the Knowledge Club sessions, taking part in writing competitions and sharing ideas, news and views in the bti forum and bti Facebook forum.

    Most beautiful part of bti culture is that the Management has created an Excellent Learning and Working Environment across the company, a better place for the people to work with pride and dignity. I am proud to be a bti family member practicing a rich corporate culture unique in Bangladesh, particularly in the real estate development sector.

  • ‘We must therefore never let the need for profits cloud our judgement about fair dealings with our customers.’
    I also follow the above for my own chemical business.

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