Rediscovering Our "Why"

Article by:

Irfan Pardesi
EO Johannesburg
Irfan Pardesi - EO Johannesburg

Google offices are designed to cultivate it, Facebook shops hard for employees who will live theirs and even Chevron has a core set of principles they protect. We’ve read the articles on company culture, heard the pleas from staff hoping for more fun “stuff” at work, and we’ve seen the movie. Company culture is certainly not a new term, and there is little doubt that it is valuable, but how do we make it work for our own businesses? Sure, there are tutorials and consultants, but what happens once they leave and everyone gets back to work?

If culture is a collective narrative—something a company inherently is—then you’ll understand why implementing the best practices from some of the best companies won’t work. Applying another company’s innovative, culture-preserving practices creates a mess. For our company, the only way out was through. By “through,” I mean by going back to why we were founded and what we want our company to say to the world. We had to understand who we are rather than what we wanted to be known for. I confess this process wasn’t easy. Many grand ideas—some my own—were canned because they were simply not right for the company. Having a Google-like canteen or trying to adopt the beloved attitude of doing more with less sadly wouldn’t cut it. We needed something that fit us.

We started by spending time verbalizing our thought processes and values. In doing so, we were able to figure out our unique way of doing things, and how we want to resolve problems for our customers and ourselves. We highlighted our strengths so that we could determine our weaknesses. By figuring out what we inherently are as a whole, and doing everything according to that understanding, we could then figure out what we can be the best in the world at and what we should leave to companies who are the best at something else. Measurement also entered our debate. We toyed with software, dashboards and observation. The outcome that made the most sense for us, however, was old- fashioned conversation, with the modern DMC (deep meaningful conversation) twist.

There is a crossroads that every business going through this process will no doubt reach: How do you change the culture while running a sustainable business and not alienating customers? Having endured this journey, I can say this: Today’s money will never be worth the same tomorrow. Similarly, today’s knowledge is worth something else tomorrow. If we don’t learn more today, change today and improve our collective thinking today, we won’t survive. Changing the culture of a company from the ground up is not about being forward-thinking, it’s a defensive move to stay relevant. In the knowledge economy we live in, and with the heuristic approach we require, industrial revolution methodologies don’t work. We need strategies to cope with the world, and times, we live in.

Knowing who you are as a company and what you should be doing are not mutually exclusive. In the context of ACM Gold, it has become clear that understanding who we are and why we do what we do is the only method for survival and expansion. As we began to cement who we are as a company, it became apparent that, despite the great relationships we had with our team members, not everyone was on the same page. It was a brutal day when I realised you can’t train people to feel what isn’t there, and we had to ask them to leave our family. But in the end, we are better for it. Because now we know who we are, what we stand for and how to mark a mark as only we can. And that’s priceless.

Irfan Pardesi is an EO Johannesburg member and founder of ACM Gold, a leading global forex trading firm in South Africa. Contact Irfan at ipardesi@acmgold.com.​​​​​​​​​​​

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