The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture

1. 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.

2. Do you spend as much (quality time) on culture as you do on strategy?

It's become popular to use the expression "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's colourful, catchy, engaging, provocative … and wrong!

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.

3. Is there clarity around what has made – and makes – the business successful?

A business exists primarily to create tomorrow's customer. Profit is obviously important but it's ultimately the outcome of doing the former well.

The organisation's culture delivers both the outward looking (why buy from us?) and the inward facing (why work for us?) value propositions. Of the two, the latter is more important. If the brand promise doesn't live inside the organisation it can't live in the marketplace.

4. Are middle managers fully in the game?

No organisation of more than 150 or so people has one single and unified culture. The challenge becomes one of tight­loose leadership: allow local differences to flourish while, at the same time, develop an overarching 'meta' culture that ensurescommon values, consistency, connection, collaboration, caring for the customer and an unrelenting commitment to the whole.

And the group that binds everything together is the "middle managers". Moreover, they are the only group that can!

5. Do you measure culture?

If you don't know where you're going … don't be surprised if you don't get there. What we don't know we can't address. It's difficult to raise the bar if you don't know how high it is. It's essential, however, that the culture measurement express, in business terms, where the organisation's culture is (roots) and where the organisation's culture needs to be (wings).

If you don't measure culture, you can't manage it. No less important, culture is strategic. We need to understand both where we are and where we need to be.

6. Are all of the communication channels fully brought into play?

Today is the slowest things will ever be! Culture and change serve and support each other. In the midst of this ongoing tumult the question becomes "Who owns the culture?"

The obvious answer is "everyone". A more considered answer might refer to the Board, the CEO or even the top team. However, perpetuated through a need for inclusion, self-protection and loyalty to one's immediate group, it is the fluid and highly adaptable informal networks. And who "feeds" the informal organisation? Middle managers.

7. Do you hire/promote with "tomorrow's" culture in mind?

The world of work is changing and the very definition of "a job" is, perhaps, changing most of all. Into this maelstrom rides talent management. The metaphorical quarterback of talent management … who and how we hire.

Getting culture on the right track means identifying the right candidate. Not every now and then … but every time. Who you hire determines what's possible.

Insights from "CEO Culture".

The Succession Imperative

If you don't have the leadership you need, regardless of what else works, you still don't have much. As for a crisis, it might not - as has often been suggested - create leaders but it lets you know about the capability of the ones you have.

The leadership challenge describes a talent management system with a good many moving parts:

  • The capacity to attract talent
  • The talent acquisition process
  • Executive integration
  • Performance management
  • Leadership development
  • Building great teams
  • Traditional and tech-enabled teaching/training
  • Coaching/mentoring
  • Expediting the organisation's diversity and inclusion goals

And at the centre of that system, the straw that stirs the drink? The organisation's approach to succession. If talent management is the vehicle that supports business longevity, succession - an often misconceived, misaligned and misunderstood process - is its engine. It is a critical investment that you cannot afford to get wrong.

The narrative around succession is, invariably, drawn to big jobs with big companies. The reality is that every poor succession decision destroys value. In family businesses this is especially the case. Unfortunately, the evidence demonstrates that organisations don't exactly excel at succession.

Ultimately, the true measure of a leader isn't what they achieve while in office - it's what they leave behind. That even after the heaviest storm … you can still clearly see their footprints in the sand.

Insights from "It's Time To Rethink Succession".

Leaders Are Legacy Leavers

The seeds of greatness are sown in how the leader in question deals with the unexpected, with crisis, with personal disappointment. Many, bruised by failure, dial back on their own personal goals and look for a position away from the heat of the kitchen. Others, stripped of self-confidence, recalibrate their personal value proposition and, as likely as not, look for an "advisory role". A precious few - those with character, those with tenacity, those drawing from a deep well of resilience - see setback as merely one more brick in the road to success.

Few of us are going to literally change the world. On the other hand, not too many of us want to be quickly forgotten. Sadly, the accepted definition of success is somewhat shallow. It tends to focus on the 3Ps: power, position and personal wealth. Ultimately, success isn't about what you have; it's about what you create. It's not about how big your garden is; it's about what you plant there.

Not all leaders are cut from the same cloth: start-up, growth, running a mature business and turnaround demand very different skills. At successive stages of personal maturity different motivational agendas also tend to put in an appearance: "to make a career", "to make money", "to make my family proud", "to make a business" and "to make a difference". Important and rewarding as the latter is, the very best leaders are compelled to do even more. They are on a quest. They are driven to "make a legacy". Legacy leavers believe that they are on a mission.

Pressure from the capital markets makes success in the short term an imperative. An executive who fails to make money won't be around long enough to leave a legacy. To succeed is to dance to the tune played by the capital markets. Legacy leavers understand that but they still do more. They rarely follow the accepted path. They find a better way. They ignore the cynics and the naysayers. They turn a deaf ear to the critics, especially those who themselves have not ventured into the arena. They part company with the timid and those of a tepid disposition. They blaze their own trail. Does that mean they do it on their own? Not at all! They draw like-minds to the cause. Legacy leavers chart their own path.

Insights from "Leaders Leave a Legacy".

A Vital Message For Emerging, High-Potential Leaders

Put a group of ambitious, first-time business leaders in a room together today and the discussion will likely turn on top-line revenue growth, the challenges of entering new markets, risk management and what politicians should do to stimulate economies.

Each of those deserves attention in this especially volatile global business environment, but perhaps none as much as the cross-functional performance lever that is 'talent management'.

No matter one's experience, education, functional expertise or industry, the ability to inspire and lead talented individuals and teams to higher levels of business performance is central to enterprise success, and will be for years to come.

Now more than ever before, talent management is everyone's business. It is the lever of human potential that can most influence organisational results. Yet it is one so often overlooked, or contained within the Human Resources Department or given only lip service by chief executives who talk about "people as our greatest asset" yet who have, at the same time, allowed archaic HR practices to tamp down progress.

If you're a business leader, you are indeed a talent manager, and must see yourself as such. This is especially vital for emerging, high-potential leaders who are the next generation of business leadership.

Ours is the epoch when talent, innovation and intellectual property are becoming the prime competitive resources through which business goals and growth are achieved.

Great people most often leave their bosses because those top managers aren't connecting the needs of superior talent with organisational priorities. Leading companies excel with progressive talent management practices and policies.

It's time for every manager to commit to talent management as a continuous cycle for renewal and repositioning in a business world whose tectonic plates are shifting faster and with more risk and opportunity at stake than ever before.

Agility is a Way to Think

Organisation agility isn't something that is "nice to have". It's about survival. The problem? Culture is a system and like any system only as strong as its weakest part. You can't sprinkle agility on the organisation. You can't add agility piecemeal.

Agility has to be embedded into every aspect of the organisation's culture. Be it - scenario planning or systems; the brand or the behavioural interview; shared values or structure; problem solving or process; diversity or dialogue; compensation or competencies; mindset or measurement; talent management or trust; learning or leadership - "agility" must be a fundamental building block in the organisation's DNA.

From working on organisation culture, it's clear that the majority of organisations are far less agile than the emerging business environment demands. And that shortfall will become an ever more limiting feature of competitiveness. The question becomes "Where to start?"

Agility has to be integral to the organisation's design. It has to be evident in the organisation's value proposition. It has to be built into the value chain and be apparent in every sales and/or service interface with the customer. It's a process. It's a way to act. More than anything else, however, agility is a way to think. It's a mindset. As such, without "leadership" you still ain't got much. Not the leadership that got us here - but a way to be that exudes, encompasses, encourages, and expresses agility in everything the leader does.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

When Pushing Your People To Excel Reaches Its Limit

You probably already know - or perhaps even fit - this management type.

You know, the hard-charging Chief Executive who demands a tremendous amount out of their people, and even more of themselves.

If you have worked with and possibly even reported to just such a global leader, you may have found yourself thankful for the experience, humbled by their commitment and personal sacrifice, and changed in some meaningful way because of what they taught you along the way.

For many of us, these behavioural and character traits define the kind of business leader we want to work with and, perhaps, to become after witnessing the success they built and the fun they allowed themselves to have along the way. Hard work has its rewards, and these global leaders - these examples of hard work actually paying off - represent a great motivation to realise our own career potential.

Yet with the nose to the grindstone work mentality, this kind of leader creates comes the very real possibility - and organisational threat - of literally asking too much and getting too much from the same high performers in their organisation, leading to burnout and even hostility.

In many complex, global organisations these days, it appears that the lion's share of work is shouldered by the same, highly committed and equally gifted people to whom all the work typically flows when a valued team member leaves, retires or gets recruited away.

It is these 'go-to' people who have earned the trust of top management and who have just enough organisational authority to tackle key strategic initiatives. They are also often typified as the A-rate people in the company, and some of them also get labelled as 'high potential leaders'.

Yet it is this cream of the crop that is most vulnerable when such a hard-charging, Type A personality of a leader steps into a new role and a new company and, to paraphrases, "takes the bull by the horns".

The translation? We're going to work our tails off in pursuit of better financial results and returns to shareholders. In the unlikely event we don't hit our aggressive top line revenue number, these leaders swear, we will no doubt realise the corporation's profit targets. And you can take their word for that.

Some employees love hearing that. They are highly attuned to the challenge and thrive on it. Others shrink from it, or demonstrate some middling level of commitment to the company's goals, and the Chief Executive's vision.

Just be careful you don't push too hard. When everything seems like an immediate and top-level priority, tensions rise and confidence in the management team wanes. Go to your 'go to' people when you need them most, but also ensure that they're not working too much and wearing themselves too thin.

Even the best of your people have their limits. Challenge them to get up as close to those limits as possible, but also offer them a lifeline - a break in the action, when you have asked for a lot in a short amount of time. Your recognition of their sometimes-heroic efforts will keep them engaged and prepare them for the next corporate battle.

One Culture Or Many?

Is it possible for an organisation to have only one culture?

In a multidivisional organisation, it can be assumed that the different divisions will have somewhat different cultures. It's also the case that, even within the same division, the likelihood is that there will be subcultures (manufacturing vs. sales). And in the network organisation, different entities that do the same thing may well work (successfully) very differently. An international dimension only complicates things further. Where the businesses are very different there may well be a case to take a portfolio approach.

The assumption that different business entities - regardless of location, history, clock speed, product and/or customer base - should behave/operate in the same way is undesirable and unworkable. That does not mean that a degree of "oneness" cannot be achieved.

A common, compelling purpose, shared values, an overall push for diversity, inclusion, being customer-driven, a mutual philosophy around collaboration, the discipline that goes into talent acquisition, support for the local community, the need for candour, pooled best-practice and leaders who care can all build "sameness" while still recognising the value of "difference".

Conversely, attempts to enforce one approach with regards to, for example, compensation and/or talent management can create a degree of coercive tension that is less than helpful.

"Tight - loose" is a useful metaphor.

Tomorrow will be different. We know we have to organise and approach delivering value for the customer differently but we can't simply throw all the cards up in the air and start again. And how do we move forward if we can't change everything at once?

The answer? The "innovation garage" - a carefully chosen part of the business is parked separately to the rest of the organisation. The goal? With tomorrow's customer in mind, explore and experiment with:

  1. What it means to be customer-driven.
  2. Tomorrow's organisation design.
  3. Future technology.
  4. The most effective way to work.

In other words, create tomorrow's culture, today.

Attempts to build "one culture" may be a forlorn hope but it's important to identify and understand the different cultures involved.

Key question(s): Do you have one culture or many and, if the latter, how do you manage that difference?

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

10 Candidate Questions That You Must Know How To Answer

Where the interviewee is truly a top candidate both parties are being fully evaluated. As a recruiter, there are candidate questions that you must know how to answer.

Although by no means replete, in some ways, the 10 questions outlined are an acid test of how prepared you are for the turbulent talent management path that lies ahead.

Head

  1. As a business, why do you do what you do? Specifically, where and how are you striving for excellence? How are you going about the latter? How will you be different five years from now?
  2. What makes the business special? Specifically, what are you doing to protect/nurture that capability? What concerns you most about doing what the competition is doing?

Hand

  1. How and in what ways is digitalisation changing the way the organisation does business?
  2. Assuming you have built a scorecard for this role, where is the greatest "stretch" demanded to meet future performance goals?
  3. Moving forward, what role-specific leadership competencies define success in this role?

Heart

  1. How good a coach is my new "boss"? Does this role build on and extend my core capability: talent, skills, and leadership competencies? Will I continue to grow and develop in this role? How and in what ways?
  2. What constitutes a great team in your organisation? How do you assess team effectiveness? How and in what ways is "team fit" central to hire and promotion decisions?

Spirit

  1. What are the organisation's espoused values? How do you live those values?
  2. What culture do you need to succeed tomorrow? How do you measure culture? What are you doing to make tomorrow's culture come to life in the room today?
  3. How and in what ways does the organisation give back? How do you make a difference in people's lives?

Insights from "Great Candidates Ask Great Questions".

Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis

"Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" is a complementary book series, specifically aimed at enhancing how leaders respond to times of crisis.

The books cover concepts such as how to come out of this crisis stronger, culture, leadership agility and learning, what makes great teams. Also included are essential skills to enable us to start having conversations about moving forward while taking appropriate actions.

Read on for more information about the book series:

Or, Download Now

Coming Down the Mountain

Part One, Coming Down the Mountain, looks at how to come out of this crisis stronger:

  • The Three Stages of Crisis
  • Letting Go of Our Past
  • Following a Script From a Different Century
  • The New Normal
  • Coming Down the Mountain
  • Why Culture Matters
  • Next Steps
  • Appendix one: 3 X 3: Crisis, Culture and Change
  • Mindset Assessment: Will You come Out of This Crisis Stronger?

The Culture Conversation

Recognising, as we move forward, how important organisation culture is, Part Two outlines the Culture Conversation:

  • The Culture Carriers
  • Look, Listen, Learn
  • The Building Blocks
  • Culture Is A System
  • Is the Organisation Managing Its Culture?
  • What Makes the Business Special?
  • One Culture or Many?
  • Measurement
  • Strategy Versus Culture
  • A Team of Teams
  • Without Leadership You Ain't Got Much
  • The Orxestra Change Model
  • Culture Assessment

Leadership, Learning and Agility: The Way Of The Dolphin

Part Three explores the need for leadership agility and what that implies: Leadership Agility and Learning - The Way of the Dolphin:

  • Agility is a Way to Think
  • Bass and the Shark
  • Agility and Speed of Learning
  • The Way of the Dolphin
  • Conclusion
  • Assessment: How Good a Coach Are You?

Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams

Drawing on the reality that tomorrow's organisation will be a team of teams, Part Four examines what it means to be an outstanding team - Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams:

  • Who We Were is Who We Are
  • It's All About Culture
  • Organisational Lessons from Nature
  • The Organisation of Tomorrow
  • Building a Great Team
  • Team Assessment

When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper - It's Time To Sharpen Your Saw

Part Five moves beyond leadership as a philosophy and drills down into essential skills - When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper, It's Time to Sharpen Your Saw:

  • Are You The Leader They Need?
  • Assessing Your Organisation's Leadership Balance
  • If Ever There Was a Time to Listen - It’s Now
  • The Listening Tree
  • To Lead Is To Care
  • 50 Ways To Say You Care - In a Covid World
  • If You Are Not Living Your Own Story, You Are Living Someone Else's
  • Resilience Assessment

Download your complementary copy of "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" from TRANSEARCH Downloads.

2020 HR Leaders Survey Results
bedfordgroup.com

In June and December 2020 The Bedford Consulting Group took the opportunity to survey Canadian HR leaders on how they were seeing their respective organisations change and what the lasting impacts might be, focusing on business performance, how we work, culture and leadership trends. The HR survey results provide valuable insight to help you approach and position your organisation for success in 2021 and beyond.

Read "2020 HR Leaders Survey Results" leadership insights

Do You Hire/Promote With "Tomorrow's" Culture In Mind?

The world of work is changing. And the very definition of "a job" is, perhaps, changing most of all. Structures, processes and tools honed over the last hundred years are starting to fail. Hierarchy and a command and control mindset are out of step with the need for agility. Strategy is an unreliable compass.

A decade from now the workforce will look very different. In that, literally, many of the jobs that companies will seek to fill a decade from now don't currently exist. Even our investment in training and development is open to question.

Into this maelstrom rides talent management. The metaphorical quarterback of talent management … who and how we hire.

Simply replacing a leader who leaves is to reinforce the status quo. External consulting support drawing largely on an expensive address, a nice suit, great marketing and a thick rolodex belongs in the past. A reliance on selection that ignores culture is to build a house on sand. And an executive who lacks mastery in the interview puts the business at risk every time they make a hiring decision.

Little is more important to tomorrow's culture than who the organisation hires and promotes. Go astray and there is no easy fix. Most leaders arrive at work to a full diary. The day-to-day and the immediate have a habit of overwhelming a long-term view. And yet, unless we create tomorrow today, the future will, inevitably, be little more than a replay of what has been. Count on it!

It's easy to find the "best" candidate. But, getting culture on the right track means identifying the "right" candidate. Not every now and then … but every time. Talent acquisition is about managing risk. Risk, in turn, is about fit. There are six critical elements of fit:

  1. Attraction
  2. Culture
  3. Performance
  4. Role-specific, leadership competencies
  5. Team fit
  6. Integration

All six elements of fit are essential but as disruption, uncertainty and new technology impact how business does business … culture is destined to become evermore important.

Culture Imperative: Who you hire determines what's possible. Hiring that has a "replacement bias" is to become more of what you have always been. In determining fit, measurement matters. Especially when it comes to culture and team. Money might attract talent but if you want to keep high performers give them a job that they love.

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

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