Culture is only real for as long as those involved believe that it's real. And it's meaningful and sustainable only for as long as those in key leadership roles reinforce that reality through their day-to-day behaviour. What a leader does is far more important than anything they might say!
Without effective processes that support a customer-centric, quality-driven, end-to-end value chain, confusion, conflict and lost capacity are inevitable. Without measurement, organisation culture is destined to remain of secondary importance; overwhelmed by the operational emergencies that all too often dominate decision-making. To lead, to inspire, to take people where they otherwise would not go is to be both artisan and artist. Think of these capabilities as the bricks and mortar (glue) of culture. To instill something that goes deep, to build something that lasts … both are essential.
Culture isn't "out there". It's not of secondary importance. And it's not a project, a by-product of the engagement survey, the exclusive domain of the HR department, a silent drumbeat that echoes from the past, a change management program, and/or "something we need to get to".
Culture is the here and now, it's practical and it's the very essence - one might call it "the soul" – of the organisation.
The organisation's strategy, be it one page or an overly complex plan, contains within it deep-rooted cultural assumptions. All projects and/or strategic initiatives are imprinted by, intended or, more often than not, unintentional "messaging" that shape how those charged with delivering the strategy define success.
In an organisation with a strong and agile culture (StrAgility), the signals that shape culture are deliberate, overt and consistent - that is, aligned with the culture the organisation needs to create. In organisations that have fallen into "culture drift" - we might not invest much time on culture but there is an overall feeling that we are on the right track - the absence of the deliberate cultural intent carries its own message - "the status quo rules."
The dilemma with a philosophy of "more of the same" is that culture changes whether you want it to or not. In an organisation that "manages culture", the signals that emphasise "team" are integral to the organisation's very DNA. To that end, consider the questions below:
- Is the strategic direction being driven into the organisation a single, linear, unidimensional plan … or is "managing uncertainty" supported by a series of well thought through strategic scenarios?
- In team review meetings, coaching sessions, business development approaches and all things to do with performance management, is the culture the organisation needs to create: (1) aligned with what tomorrow's customers want to buy; (2) drawn out of sound measurement; and (3) fully supported by middle managers?
- Are the organisation's values clear? Do those values reinforce the importance of teamwork?
- The real challenge with strategy is implementation. Meanwhile, turning direction into delivery rests, in no small measure, on buy-in from the middle kingdom. Is the strategy presented as a series of numbers and charts or has it been translated into a compelling story? Information, as the term implies, "informs." The right story inspires.
- Do the stories that dominate celebrate the lone hero/heroine … or do they recognise that no one makes it on their own?
- Do the hiring, promotion, high potential and success processes emphasise team fit? As we move to more flexible organisation forms - as the team becomes the basic building block of organisation performance - success as both a team leader and a team player becomes the difference that makes a difference.
- Does the definition of "diversity" include not just gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like but cognitive diversity? The latter recognising the need for teams to be made up of members who not only come from different backgrounds but who "think differently".
- Is it recognised that, without support and exemplary teamwork from those in the middle of the organisation, the direction the organisation needs to take is likely to remain little more than "what might have been?"
- Does the organisation's design support or work against a strong team culture? Even a simple carpenter recognises how problematic it is to work against the grain.
"The way I think about culture is that modern humans have radically changed the way that they work and the way that they live. Companies need to change the way they manage and lead to match the way that modern humans actually work and live."Brian Halligan, CEO, HubSpot
If the competition is managing its culture and you are trapped by culture drift, no matter how good your product, you don't have a future … you have a problem.