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Thai Union Relies on “Culture” to Deliver Its Vision
October 27,2015 [ by Larry Chao ] 9321 Read and 1 Comment

Last month, Thai Union launched its new global identity in a gala celebration for over 3,000 employees at the BITEC in Bang Na. As part of this launch, Thai Union introduced a new corporate vision: “To be the world’s most trusted seafood leader, caring for our resources to nurture generations to come.”

But this is no ordinary vision. Successful achievement is not only hitting a business target of 280 billion baht by 2020, it is contingent on contributing to environmental sustainability and building trust with customer, communities and other key constituencies. It is about growing and giving back to a greater cause.

To drive this vision, Thai Union is banking on creating a responsible team culture, where individuals work together and are accountable for collective results. It is investing time and effort to ensure employees understand the vision, and how to make responsible decisions to preserve the environment.

Indeed, as companies here in Thailand plot visions and competitive strategies, leaders are beginning to recognize the link between workplace culture and performance. They are finally heeding the advice of late management guru Peter Drucker, who said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

So what is workplace culture and how do you influence it? What benefits can Thai Union reap by tweaking its culture?

John Kotter, Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International consulting and former Harvard University management professor referred to culture as, “how people behave and the values they follow in an organization.”

Yet shaping culture and changing the way thousands of employees behave is a lot harder than describing a set of values. The underlying ingredient for success is committed leadership, supported by some combination of human resources tools to reinforce desired behaviors. How leaders behave and what they do influences culture more than any other factor.

So, for example, if leaders are only interested in the bottom line and do not care about customer service, then people in the organization will spend all their time finding ways to cut costs and operate efficiently, even at the expense of serving customers.

For Thai Union, its journey towards its vision has started by defining a set of six values. Three values are so-called “values of action.” They are: Responsibility, collaboration and innovation. These values are more or less about how people should work. The remaining three values are “values of attitude,” which include passion, being humble and respectful. These values are more about how leaders manage themselves and how they treat others.

On the surface, there is nothing unusual about these values. Most companies, especially those with matrix organization structures, promote similar values, as they struggle to keep people focused and working as a team. But what makes these values so impactful at Thai Union is Chief Executive Officer Khun Thiraphong Chansri’s personal commitment to prioritize them throughout the business.

In fact, the values of action have already been embedded as part of Thai Union’s business strategy. For example, the value of responsibility underpins Thai Union’s sustainability programs, which in turn guide its operations. Being responsible for safeguarding the environments in which Thai Union operates is of paramount importance. Employees are taught to be accountable for the long term consequences of their actions.

The toughest values to nurture are the “values of attitude,” which govern how individuals behave and treat each other. Yet this is where Khun Thiraphong excels. He is the role model for passion, being humble and respecting others. Through his day-to-day behaviors, he practices what he preaches. Ask any Thai Union employee, who in the organization truly symbolizes the company values, and more often than not, you will hear the CEO’s name.

Khun Thiraphong also recognizes that to he cannot do it by himself, and must rely on his full leadership team to be the standard bearers for the company’s values. So he holds his direct reports accountable and encourages them to live these values in how they behave and act.

As Thai Union moves forward, ongoing initiatives help employees understand and practice these values. But make no mistake about it. It is committed leadership that will set the tone, drive culture change, and ensure Thai Union achieves the full intent of its vision by 2020.

Larry Chao is Managing Director of Chao Group Limited, an organization change consultancy based in New York and Bangkok.
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