Are You Managing Your Culture? The 10 Imperatives
1. In turbulent times, long after your business strategy has been overwritten by the events of the day, what will endure is your culture. To that end, although we may appear to be making great time, without culture measurement we are lost! ‘The culture we need’ frames the context for any meaningful, strategic conversation around ‘where are we … and where do we need to be?’ It also informs ‘the how.’ Make ‘where you need to be’ real – not an aspirational, best guess.
2. Culture is story and story is culture. Build a vibrant Meta-story as a culture imperative. It should capture: Why we do what we do. Where are we heading? What do we believe in? What makes us special? How does what we do make a difference in people’s lives? Loyalty is, ultimately, based on the extent to which customers and, for that matter, employees connect with your story. Top talent don’t join your organisation, they are drawn (or not) to your story.
3. Culture will change whether you want it to or not. Know also that if you’re not managing your culture, someone else is. To manage culture is to understand that language is everything. ‘Change,’ for example, is a word that carries a lot of baggage. For most middle managers it simply means – ‘more work.’ Same old language – same old behaviour.
4. Manage the business from the outside-in; lead the business from the inside-out. Be specific when defining the overarching elements of connectability that bind different parts of the organisation together: e.g., what does ‘being customer driven’really mean? How will we know when it’s happening? Recognise that there is a major difference between cooperation and collaboration. Innovation is rooted in collaboration. Innovation = (curiosity + the quality of the question asked + the learning approach) x the degree of psychological safety. In a world marked by uncertainty, if you are fearful of failing … don’t expect to embrace the joy of winning.
5. Move beyond the thinking of the watchmaker (fixing what’s broken) and adopt the mindset of the potter (how can we shape tomorrow’s winning value proposition?) Access big numbers but don’t fall into paralysis by analysis. Move quickly. Keep it simple! It’s a mistake, meanwhile, to assume that breakthrough technology and the drive for digitalisation represent an end in themselves. Technology is an enabler. The customer doesn’t want a better mousetrap … just because it’s a better mousetrap – they want to work with a provider who has a faster, environmentally friendly, more efficient and cost effective way to deal with their mouse problem.
6. Work with … not against the grain. Get middle managers back in the game. If middle managers don’t buy-in, nothing will change. Culture is a system. It demands systems thinking. To that end, work as aggressively on the things that hold the organisation back (e.g., the history you need to let go of, language, metaphor, symbolism, story, mindset, how people learn) as you do on the elements that drive the organisation forward (e.g., purpose, strategy, brand, structure, compensation, talent management, processes, technology). Content without context is momentum without meaning. Always hire with tomorrow’s culture in mind. Who you hire determines what is possible.
7. If what you need to become isn’t already working, even if only part of the time in some places, you can’t create it. Affirm and reinforce success. Make sourcing best-practice (inside and outside of the organisation) an abiding
imperative. Become a storytelling organisation. Share stories to amplify the leadership competencies. Use stories to make the organisation’s values come to life. They shouldn’t be in conflict but don’t confuse personal and organisation values (guiding principles). In an organization setting, values aren’t rules … they give people permission to act. Part company with anyone (anyone, regardless of results) who doesn’t live the organisation’s values.
8. If you can’t coach, you can’t lead! What you believe is what others will perceive; believe it WILL happen; care about people; manage the grapevine; make candour a way of life; be humble. Above all else, learn to work at the level of mindset. As we move into an unprecedented era of ‘exponential change’, nothing is more important than creating the conditions for learning to flourish. The only truly sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your most innovative competitor. Companies that do what others say cannot be done don’t have a culture – they are their culture.
9. Tomorrow’s successful organisation will, of necessity, be focused, flat, fast, flexible and fertile to new ideas. A strong and agile culture is built around purpose-driven and agile teams. In taking the team to the next level, four questions have primacy: (1) As the team leader, what do I need to do differently? (2) In what ways does the context support diversity and inclusion? (3) How do we measure team effectiveness? (4) How and in what ways can we fold blended, virtual, gig, millennial and iGen employees into, what it means to be, a great team?
10. Without inspirational leadership from those at the helm, you ain’t got much! To ‘inspire’ means to make tomorrow’s culture come alive in the room today. Passion means to pass-inspiration-on. Know that there is a reason it’s called leaderSHIP. ‘Delivery’ is never optional.
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John O. Burdett is founder of Orxestra® Inc. He has extensive international experience as a senior executive. As a consultant he has worked in more than 40 countries for organisations that are household names. John has worked on organisation culture for some of the world’s largest organisations. His ongoing partnership with TRANSEARCH International means that his thought leading intellectual property, in any one year, supports talent management in many hundreds of organisations around the world.