Tomorrow's Leaders Are Culture Savvy

Culture is a complex system that is only as strong as its weakest parts. Moreover, if a piece is missing it doesn't work. An engaged workforce doesn't mean you are heading in the right direction. Organisation values are essential but on their own they are not enough.

Conventional wisdom suggests that culture follows strategy. The dilemma is that in a world where strategy is persistently under attack, "the plan" has to be constantly revisited. The new dictum is culture enables strategy. What endures, what provides the platform for growth, what shapes future performance, what enables different strategic scenarios to unfold … is the organisation's culture.

The challenge, of course, is not merely to possess a strong culture but to build a business environment that shapes how people act and, at the same time, supports emerging strategic scenarios. This speaks to changing the patterns of play, measurement, the ability to shape the culture conversation, bringing middle managers on board and inspirational leadership.

Even where all the building blocks of culture are in place, if the leader in question lacks the ability to take people places they otherwise would not go, you still don't have much!

Our own research - and that of others - suggests that only 20% of organisations manage their culture. Power moves into a vacuum. If you are not managing your culture someone else is! And if those at the helm lack culture savvy take it as a given - the future of the business lies in the wrong hands.

And the difference that makes a difference: Recognise that culture is managed from the outside-in but demands leadership from the inside-out; provide structure and guidance into how to have the culture conversation; become a storyteller; measure culture and work diligently to uncover (global) best practice - then improve on it. Our species are, above all else, copying machines with an inherent desire to be better than all the rest.

Insights from "Tomorrow's Leadership Will Be Different".

Five Essential Building Blocks of Your Organisation's Story

Tomorrow's successful leader is someone who can slalom through the white water of unanticipated disruption and culture change. To that end, little is more important as a navigation aid than the organisation's story. That story has five essential building blocks:

1) Where are we headed?
2) What do we believe in?
3) What makes us special?
4) What is our brand promise?
5) How do we make a difference in people's lives?

Story is culture and culture is story. Yesterday, strategy informed culture. Moving forward, culture enables strategy. If you're not measuring culture … you're not managing it.

Insights from "Speed of Learning: The Ultimate Competitive Advantage".

Three Essential TRANSEARCH Orxestra® Webinars You Can Watch Right Now
drive.google.com (PDF)

TRANSEARCH International recently invited organisational change and culture guru Dr John O. Burdett to present a series of global webinars on the following themes:

  1. The Culture Conversation
  2. Coming Down the Mountain - It's all mindset
  3. Organization Design

For those who have already watched the webinars or participated in the live sessions, thank you for your ongoing interest in our TRANSEARCH Orxestra® series. If you haven't been able to join us or missed one of the sessions, you can read more about the webinars using the links above and watch the videos at your leisure.

Insights from "Three essential TRANSEARCH Orxestra® webinars you can watch right now" by Vladimír Polomský, Sr. Consultant, TRANSEARCH International Czech Republic & Slovakia.

Read "Three Essential TRANSEARCH Orxestra® Webinars You Can Watch Right Now" leadership insights

Do You Spend As Much Quality Time On Culture As You Do On Strategy?

Traditional business school thinking is that strategy drives culture. Figure out the strategy and then make the culture fit. In a steady state world, that model makes perfect sense. Except we don't live in a safe, predictable environment. In a world of uncertainty the only thing that is predictable is that your strategy will be "subject to correction". Long after the strategy has been shredded, what will endure is the culture. The new reality - culture enables strategy.

It's become popular to use the expression "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's colourful, catchy, engaging, provocative … and wrong! We need both strategy and culture. The conundrum with a good metaphor is that logic doesn't unseat it. We need a better metaphor.

Consider...

"Strategy is a bicycle, culture is a bus."

It's a mistake of epic proportions to assume the bicycle can pull the bus. Difficult when the road is flat; impossible on a steep incline. Know also that if the bicycle has to swerve - if, for example, a black swan runs into the road (a black swan event describes unpredictable, sweeping and highly disruptive change, e.g., the 2008 financial meltdown) - the bus will just keep on going .. and going. And in the collision that follows … no prize for knowing the winner!

We need to get strategy on the bus … recognising that culture has primacy at the back of the bus! What does that mean in practical terms? The next time your team meets to discuss strategy make sure that culture is front and centre. In an uncertain and unpredictable world, to be a successful leader is to breathe life into the culture every single day. The problem? Intent and intestinal fortitude aren't always aligned. What's important gets in the way of what is essential. Early resolve is not the same as a successful outcome.

The evidence from our own research, and that of others, is that only 20% of organisations are managing their culture. The Culture Imperative: If you are not managing your culture someone else is! The union; a dominant customer; a predatory supplier; the local press; government regulators; and/or a function or sub-business that, because of past success, have undue influence and will be pleased to move into the vacuum.

Insights from "The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture".

Does Your Team Regularly Have A Vibrant Culture Conversation?

Culture is the often overlooked, all-pervasive, enterprise-wide, organisational DNA that dictates whether your strategy lands or if your brand sustains. It's "a way to be" shaped by the past but continuously honed by the emerging business, social, economic, political and customer context. Culture is managed from the outside-in but demands leadership from the inside-out. The four essential, supporting pillars of culture are:

  1. Mission (why do we do what we do?)
  2. Diversity (diversity fuels innovation)
  3. Brand (why buy from us?)
  4. Speed (Focus - Anticipation - Simplicity - Technology)

The four pillars act like the foundation of a house. If they are poorly constructed nothing will stand for very long. Those four pillars are braced by the organisation's values. The organisation's values must hold meaning for all of the stakeholders, especially the customer.

Bringing the intended culture to life means also working on:

  • Structure;
  • Core processes;
  • The nature and degree of freedom to act (how decisions get made and who makes them); and
  • How people learn (learning how to learn, speed of learning)

All of the elements described come together to shape the organisation's story. Culture is story and story is culture. When top talent is evermore difficult to find and attract, a winning story is essential. Talent isn't attracted to your balance sheet; they want to join your firm because they love your story. And they stay, not because they swoon over your strategy but, because they are a happy captive of your culture.

Insights from "The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture".