Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Part 2 of a 4 part blog to help you shape the culture you need to accelerate your Post Covid recovery.
By Alistair Brown, Principal Associate Consultant
Your Culture…..A powerful force for change, but often misunderstood?
Too often intentionally shaping your culture (the environment your strategy lives or dies in!) to align with strategy has been an opportunity over looked, down played or superficially addressed. Culture is often misunderstood and given a cautious reception in the Boardroom due to its “perceived” subjective nature, diverse opinions and challenges in connecting culture shifts clearly to improving the bottom line…..and a resultant but rarely acknowledged “Fear of failure” below the surface.
Fortunately today’s culture change debate is much more mainstream and supported by a growing body of knowledge and evidence around approaches and impact on performance. For many organisations like Amazon, Google, South West Airlines and Zappo to name a few “Culture is strategy” and “Inseparable sides of the same coin”. In my experience organisations rarely get the strategy badly wrong, in performance post mortems its strategy execution (Culture?) that comes under fire more often. In some cases the strategy gets the blame and is dropped, only for the new strategy to suffer the same fate, when the real Achilles heel is the prevailing culture.
In the first part of this 4 part “Culture Matters” series of blogs we explored
How to define culture in a more accessible, compelling and actionable way to enable a meaningful conversation.
Why treating strategy and culture as one iterative conversation, not a choice of approaches or sequential discussion makes more sense.
Shaping the Cultural conversation in the leadership team
In this article we would like to dive deeper into shaping the conversation around the top table. Ironically the majority of senior managers I meet, intuitively agree it’s a powerful force for change…..that does frequently “Eat strategy for breakfast”. For some it can be the cause of every failure and the solution to a multiple of organisational challenges. However harnessing and leveraging the power of culture today is much higher up the list of what keeps CEO’s awake at night, given the potential for culture to slow you down if the direction of travel pivots significantly. Agility, resilience, innovation, adaptability….today’s “Go to” winning hand all require a significant and persistent focus on shaping culture.
You’re already unconsciously shaping your culture?
Culture does not improve by chance… it gets better by choice, choices you make daily. Some would say tackling culture is hard, expensive, risky …and takes forever? However, while it’s not getting any easier, I firmly believe the right leadership approach, reframing the challenge and a clear focus on culture can achieve great things with early results and modest investments. Failing to nurture and shape your culture is more expensive. E.g. Volkswagen (Emissions) Tesco (Financial integrity) Enron (Integrity full stop!) and many others evidence this. The research supports the business case for cultural alignment more and more. Watch this space for how Best Western and Weatherspoon’s shares perform Post Covid after there financially motivated early responses to the crisis.
If you think about culture change as not “something you do, but something you get”, the reality is you’re already doing stuff every day, strategic and tactical, and behaving in a way that impacts your culture ….. You can’t not be! However, every day you are unconsciously rather than intentionally impacting culture, through the many leadership decisions you take every day and the behaviours you and your leadership team display that are not filtered through the lens of a Culture vision.
Work back from a clear Vision of the culture you need?
So why not clearly define the culture you need to execute your strategy faster and assess your strategic choices in that light. After all you wouldn’t invest significant time and effort in something that didn’t help you achieve your Vision and strategy. So why not also asses these decision through a lens of impact on and fit with your desired culture vision. Perhaps 2 or 3 simple but compelling statements of intent that can act like guiding beacons steering you to a future state culture.
So culture change doesn’t necessarily require a significant additional investment, its more about re-framing existing investment choices to support a clear future vision of the culture you need. I.e. How we need to work around here to be more agile, innovative, customer focused” etc. Who we hire, how we develop, how we reward, how we learn etc. can all be more closely tied to your vision of culture
Culture change has to start with honest and open dialogue in the boardroom
While culture change needs to be shaped from the top and linked to Purpose, Vision and strategy it’s most successful when built from the bottom up. Shaping and facilitating culture change with a clear purpose and identity at its core is more effective when all employees have a voice and a role in “How the work gets done around here” at all levels. Culture changes one person at a time and the old adage…”People commit to what they help create”, shines brightly in culture change journeys.