As Edgar Schein famously said , “If you do not manage culture, it manages you and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening”
To survive and grow, companies are constantly grappling with new and different ways to transform their businesses in the face of radical change. Changing out leadership teams, rethinking strategy, product and channel diversification, cutting costs and restructuring are all clearly important in the face of change in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) but are often still not enough to sustain an acceptable level of performance.
Too often these breakthrough strategic solutions feel imposed from above, clash with the established beliefs, practices and norms of the culture and the strength of felt resistance to logical, well thought through change is frequently under estimated.
Some organisations and leaders struggle with this cultural alignment issue for years before seriously looking at performance improvement through the lens of culture…the shared assumptions, beliefs, values, practices and ingrained behaviour that contribute to the unique way organisations “get things done”...our favourite when it comes to definitions of culture.
Addressing the symptoms will not deliver alignment with strategy
Often this lack of sustainability is because strategy and culture are considered separately, with culture only being superficially understood and the impact of any mis-alignment on performance is vastly under estimated with an acceptance that the culture is just the culture and will only change slowly and of its own accord.
With the average length of service of a CEO being close to 2 years these days and the complexity of the task of realigning the culture…..we may have a connection with this tendency not to tackle culture with serious intent?
The big strategic plays are often only addressing symptoms of performance dips and may fail to deal with the deeper and derailing cultural issues like a customer service mind set, innovation barriers, cross functional collaboration, employee engagement, confusing values or disempowering top down leadership styles.
Yet when the wheels come off a major change effort, culture is often where the finger of blame or search for the missing ingredient quickly lands.
While there is growing awareness of the importance of culture as a performance lever and some great research and writing around…..explicit, sufficiently resourced strategies to deal with cultural issues are less common.
5 Fundamental questions that keep you awake at night:
What is culture?What are the key characteristics of our current culture?In what ways does our current culture support or derail our efforts to execute our strategy?Why do we need to change our culture?How do we approach changing our culture?
So here’s a few thoughts to help you explore why the answers to these 5 fundamental questions are critical and will help you to cultivate a greater sense of urgency, realism, positive intent and direction around tackling cultural barriers to performance with your senior colleagues .
So here are 3 reasons for actively defining, choosing and shaping your culture in parallel with choosing you’re strategy.
Culture may be your only sustainable competitive advantage
Anyone can copy your company’s strategy and catch up quickly, but it’s almost impossible to copy your culture…the established values, norms and behaviours that drive collective actions (rarely in the annual report or Wikipedia!)
Any attempt by your competition to even try and replicate them will take a long time. Your people’s unique attitudes, values and capability make the difference to the impact and sustainability of your strategy long term.
Your culture is the working environment your strategy flourishes or withers in -
The world of strategy and cultures both involve collecting and analysing data to surface insights and make informed choices, but strategy is a lot simpler and clearer than the minefield of culture.
Your culture is fundamental to the level of engagement, ownership and emotional commitment required to translate strategy into action at the “coalface” and will either fuel or derail your strategy. The level of alignment between your strategy and your culture will drive engagement and ultimately determine success and it’s a lack of alignment that keeps more CEO’s awake at night rather than strategy choices.Without conscious alignment efforts…..your strategy will inevitably meet more resistance
No matter how compelling and creative the strategy, it needs to align with the culture to deliver the goods. Give us a good well, constructed and informed plan and a seamlessly aligned culture over a brilliant plan and a mis-aligned culture. This is a particularly common Achilles heel when there is a whole new leadership team leading a business turnaround….a team who are not surprisingly less sensitive to the cultural history and nuances of the business….and have a strategy that worked in other cultures.
It’s a lack of conscious alignment that often slows change down, de-energises people, increases retention/attraction challenges and leads organisations to risk “initiative overload”. Armed with an overwhelming change agenda, in pursuit of unrealistic performance targets, your capability is out of step with your vision and the organisations over heats and capacity eventually drops.
Often achieving the holy grail of “More from less” with a more realistic programme of projects is fundamentally possible and rooted in figuring out cultural alignment mechanisms
Knowing when to “Go with the grain” of culture and established behaviours and complementing them when scoping projects will release performance benefits sooner. “Fewer better, well executed projects that extract more value faster” is the mantra or organisations with strong reputations for organisational change.
If you would like to talk to the Taylor Clarke team about Culture, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org