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What is your Culture (and is it working for you)?

As Peter Drucker once famously said: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

It is not that defining an organisation's mission (purpose), vision, values and strategy (MVVS) are unimportant, far from it, but organisations which fail to get alignment between these things and their cultures are almost certainly heading for failure.

Culture, which can be defined as how an organisation and its people behave (how they do what they do), is a very powerful, deeply ingrained yet often overlooked component of business success. Every organisation has a culture, the question is: does your organisation's culture empower or hinder achievement of your MVVS?

This short article from HBR identifies the business, management and human 'magic' levers that you can control to develop a healthier culture:

Simply stating that 'this is/will be our culture' is futile unless the statement is backed by evidence or a solid development plan. Nor can it be rushed: many behaviours are held deeply and even subconsciously, and groupthink can be a powerful force. A conscious, determined process is required along with an understanding that there will be setbacks. The rewards, however, make it well worth the effort and time of doing it properly.

The first step is to honestly assess the current situation: which positive cultural traits do we possess that we can build on, and which negative ones do we need to eliminate? Note that this assessment should bear in mind likely future as well as current requirements. The Johnson and Scholes Cultural Matrix can help here (it looks at different aspects of how a culture is manifested and lends itself to an 'as-is' and 'to-be' analysis).

Next, definite steps to action need to be identified and applied. As with so many aspects of business performance, leadership is crucial here: leaders MUST model and reward the behaviours they want to see, e.g., it is no use deciding and communicating that a more collaborative culture is necessary for future success whilst still shutting others out yourself and paying only individual bonuses based on sales figures.

What does effective leadership look like with reference to cultural change? Here are the most important traits I have identified over many years of practice, observation and evaluation (note that this is not an exhaustive list of the ingredients for good leaders, but these are the factors in which, if a leader excels, he/she is most likely to thrive):

  • Clarity - this requires honesty about the current situation, the changes required, how the results will be achieved and who will do what.

  • Communication - another neglected but vital field. Communication has to be regular, consistent and clear. A single 'new culture launch presentation' will not suffice. Formal and informal meetings, settings, presentations, etc. can and should all be used. The repetition required is perhaps the most boring part of the task, but it is crucial to success!

  • Empowerment - ensure that managers and others have the resources and authority to make the changes and to make them stick. Whilst the leader's role and example are crucial, he/she cannot be everywhere or do everything: mobilise the change agents.

  • Accountability - having provided and communicated clarity and empowerment, firmly hold others to account for making the changes. Do not turn a blind eye to any regression. Doing so would send the message that the change is not really important and would undermine and demotivate those who are engaged with making it happen.

  • Courage - change, especially cultural change, is difficult and often messy. There will be resistance from some and the pressure of everyday work will provide a near-constant temptation to 'put things on hold and just get on with the real work'. Shareholders can of course add to this pressure. However, remember that the point of the change is to improve business performance. Listen to others and make corrections where required, but remember that your task is to lead so have the courage of your conviction and inspire others to go on the journey with you. It is difficult to think of any successful businesses that did not have to grow in the face of opposition, so don't do what is easy, do what is right!

  • Engagement - it will not always be possible to take everyone on the change journey with you, but an understanding of the motivations, desires and fears of your people will make it easier to frame the change in ways they can connect with and thus maximise buy-in. Psychometrics such as SDI2.0, which we use at Aspire, can help here: they provide this and similar information along with strategies for effective engagement.

The business benefits of having a culture that not only tolerates but actively supports the achievement of the organisation's MVVS are self-evident. Further, as so few businesses seem willing or able to invest in such cultural development, those which succeed in doing so enjoy a source of lasting competitive advantage.

Remember, effective leadership is the single most important critical success factor. Aspire MCL specialises in developing high-performance leaders and teams. Get in touch today and unlock YOUR potential for success!

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