“A healthy corporate culture is crucial to the life of any company. Infrastructure, value assets, capital, systems, processes and business models can only take you so far; but if your workforce isn’t engaged and in a positive environment, the sustainability of business activity is jeopardised,” says Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson who is among Sri Lanka’s leading businesswomen today.

According to her, culture ought to be a top priority for Sri Lankan businesses as corporates begin to reinvent systems and review existing business models, to address the changes in an evolving local and global economic environment.

“Sri Lanka should diversify its industries to cater to domestic and global markets, and change gear in terms of competitiveness both internally and externally,” she asserts.

Wilson adds that “a combination of protectionism and political influence has led to complacency and inefficient ecosystems that don’t make use of our talented workforce, which isn’t conducive to career and business growth.”

She adds that “given the present global and local crisis, we as a nation should commence the journey of building a self-sufficient economy,” while acknowledging at the same time that making the public believe in change will be a challenge.

“The solution is nurturing a corporate culture that serves as an enabler for change. In my experience, before introducing sweeping
positive changes, it is necessary for people to change how they address corporate culture; or else they set themselves up for failure,”
Wilson insists.

Diversity is a crucial element in promoting a better culture among corporates, she says. Nevertheless, Wilson argues that diversity should be looked at beyond conventional means, and be incorporated not only in relation to race, gender and background, but also in terms of ability, knowledge, skill and expertise.

“This will not only lead to respect, acceptance and collaboration among corporates but also encourage a diverse spectrum of ideation,”
she explains.

Wilson also says that financial metrics no longer serve as the only means of generating corporate respect: “For a business to ensure
sustainable growth, it is paramount that purpose lies at the heart of it. Corporate culture must serve as an enabler in this regard.”

“If you encourage a positive culture and values, you’ll find that employees become brand ambassadors; they then spread a positive brand image beyond corporate confines,” she notes.

A celebrated former national sportswoman, Wilson notes that discipline, perseverance, the ability to nurture the fine details, and humility and teamwork in the face of adversity are lessons that can be taken onto the veritable corporate court.

Experiencing both victory and defeat, and learning valuable lessons through this journey, will build a resilient team spirit, she assures.

“Yet, leaders need to walk the talk when revitalising their ecosystems,” she cautions, while noting: “A new human resources executive cannot merely be rebranded as a ‘talent officer’ in the name of a revitalised corporate culture. Walk the talk and actively promote it beyond labels.”

“At the end of the day, leaders should remember that employees leave bosses and cultures – they don’t leave jobs,” Wilson avers.

In regard to the workforce, she feels that employees will always comprise people across generations. Older employees must learn to
embrace change while younger millennials who tend to pursue purpose must realise the importance of a middle ground over absolutes,
she urges.

“There will be a time that millennials find that their values are antiquated while younger generations demand work with a different purpose,” she remarks, insisting that “what’s important is that the company seeks a higher purpose overall.”

Her advice is to “marry the values of your workforce with those of the company because ultimately, corporates contribute so much to the national economy.” And as she posits, “if we look beyond financial gains, the benefit of purpose in corporate action will spread across the public and generations.”

Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Hemas Holdings