February 18

In the Spotlight – interview with Vanessa O’Shea

What does culture mean in organisations?

Culture describes the environment in which behaviours are either encouraged, or not tolerated. It comes from the organisation’s values, beliefs, written and unwritten rules and can sometimes be revealed by asking the question “how are things done around here?” You can have a positive culture, e.g., a learning one, where mistakes are expected for growth to occur, resulting in your people rapidly developing, and internal promotions; or a negative culture, where only perfection is allowed, mistakes are hidden, you struggle to recruit and retain good people.

You work in both the for-profit and not for profit sectors; do you find any substantial differences in their approach to developing a positive culture?

So far, the CEO’s that I have worked with have all grasped that creating a positive culture is more than just treating your staff well, although this is crucial. Culture shaping brings people together under a common purpose, outworked by clear values, strengthening identity, and positioning them competitively. After all, every leader wants to achieve more with what they have.

Recruitment organisations talk more now about looking at strengths rather than competencies. Do you think there is a shift in what organisation are looking for in their people?

I do see a shift in organisations actively recruiting people for their natural abilities, as opposed to the skills that they have learnt. I know of a technological business that chooses candidates with strengths in relationship building, over technical skills because they recognise that such a strength leads to repeat business. Identifying and building on people’s strengths taps into unlimited energy, passion and motivation and I think it’s much more effective than spending all your time trying to fix their weaknesses.

Your research and experience pinpoints key qualities needed in today’s dynamic working environment. What do you think are the key qualities that we should all be continuously developing?

Resilience: being able to bounce back when things go wrong, not being oversensitive to criticism, having an emotional strength, whilst being authentic. Knowing your stress triggers and having a strategy at those times.

Communication: being clear about expectations, giving and receiving honest feedback, not shying away from conflict, and being timely and concise in written communication. Asking questions and fully listening.

Be empowering: being able to spot the potential in others and create opportunities for these to be developed. Knowing your team member’s strengths and aspirations, delegating well, giving autonomy, developing a coaching style.

In addition, I believe that if you can grasp these skills, you are well on the way to creating a positive culture around you.