It was again a delight to receive a Culture Sustainability Award for our continued constructive results in our annual culture survey. This was our 4th Culture Sustainability Award from Human Synergistics. We also received a Culture Transformation Award in 2006. The efforts and commitment of the KSS team in the journey to make our business a great place to work cannot be overstated, and there is great pride that this is recognised.
At Kennards Self Storage we have been measuring culture since 1998. The decision to undertake the first survey occurred when I was given an icy cold shower of reality and learned that my business was not as good as I thought it was. An email broadcast throughout the company by one of my key support people outlined a bunch of apparent problems. Until this moment, I had not grasped the possible scale and weight of the issues within KSS.
We undertook the first Organisation Culture Inventory (more colloquially shortened to be referred to as the “OCI”) not knowing would happen next. We didn’t expect the results to be so Aggressive and Defensive, and worse still we did not have a clue what to do about this hostile response.
It took a little digestion and reflection plus an external objective perspective, then we started to ‘peel the onion’. We gradually unpacked parts of our business based on what we thought the OCI was saying. The OCI is very helpful in that it offers very granular results about people’s perceptions of why they see the culture in a particular way. The challenging task is to identify the system, rule, practice and also people that manifest themselves as aggressive and defensive behaviours. We learned that the results are based on perceptions of people. Perceptions are everything, even if they not always the truth. Creating negative perceptions are not normally the intention of an organisations leadership.
At one level, we had to identify, validate and dispel any myths that were around. This is not always easy but we did uncover some common perceptions. Exposing myths, no matter how uncomfortable they may be, to some sunlight and permitting candid discussion has proven to be very insightful.
We unpacked all the messages – whether conscious and deliberate or accidental – and attempted to reframe what we said and what we did, to express the sort of business we wanted to be. We learnt that messages in a business are more than what we said. They are embedded in our systems. They are expressed in the business rules we expect of each other, and importantly, our customers.
To this end, we consciously decided to remove any aggravations and abrasive edges, particularly where they impacted our customer directly. One example was the self storage industry practice of requiring 2 weeks’ notice from a customer if they intend to vacate their storage space. If the notice was not fulfilled (and it often wasn’t) we would retain 2 weeks’ worth of storage rent. We realised much conflict and disharmony arose from this petty business rule. When a customer leaves they should feel delighted with the experience, not bitter. We changed this to a ‘pay only for the time you store’ approach, so now we refund all unused rent. I do not know what revenue we surrendered with this change; it was not something we ever quantified. We just knew it was something that did not serve us and had to change.
From the outside, this sort of change may seem obvious, but to people in a business who have lived it, don’t often recognise the obvious and challenge the status quo.
Importantly, as a leadership group we made sure we were always candid, authentic and human. We had a good long look in the mirror. We admitted mistakes and explained everything we did truthfully, without spin. Too often people believe their career is safer if they can sugar-coat bad news, or avoid admitting errors. To us, mistakes are okay and learning from mistakes should be celebrated and shared.
In addition, we explained the rationale of what we were trying to do. People are very understanding when they see people are doing their best and like them – imperfect. When people understand the intention, then they will forgive the mistakes and assist to make the idea work even better.
The culture journey has been challenging and we have asked our team to grow, expose their weaknesses and embrace personal development. The recent Award we received from Human Synergistics for our sustained constructive culture is a wonderful recognition for the entire KSS team for their engagement and commitment to KSS and efforts to create a company that is a little bit different.