In what amounts to a sad irony, a tree planted to celebrate the life of Beatle, George Harrison, was destroyed by, of all things, beetles. George died in 2001. He was only 58. Planted three years after his death, the twelve-foot tree in Griffith Observatory gardens, Los Angeles, had to be torn out. Below the tree was a simple plaque: “In memory of a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, a musician and a gardener.” Not a bad tribute for a working-class kid from Liverpool. The beetles, well, they were simply being … beetles. In stealing their name (sort of), perhaps George owed them one.
Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s Founder – now owned by Amazon – preaches that an organization’s number one priority is culture. Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, says, “It doesn’t matter how good your original product is, if you can’t build a great company around it, the product won’t endure.” When Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, in 2014, he told employees that his highest priority was the company’s culture. He refers to culture as “the soul” of the organization. For a great organization, culture isn’t an abstract or vague concept … it’s real … it speaks to people. It’s not a competitive advantage … it’s a competitive imperative.
The Irish elk thrived for over 7,000 years. Its range extended from China to, as the name suggests, Ireland. Standing more than a meter and a half (6.9 feet) at the shoulder and weighing up to 700 kilograms (1,543 pounds), it was, by far, the largest elk around – before or since. What made it truly spectacular though were its antlers at 3.65 metres (12 feet) across. In sexual conquest and in battle, antler size was everything. And then, 11,000 years ago, this magnificent animal went into sharp decline. There are a number of theories to explain its extinction.
The second wave of digitalisation – AI; increased globalisation; new entrants to the marketplace; the emerging influence of a millennial workforce; gig employment; political uncertainty; the difficulty of uncovering, let alone attracting, top talent; and the existential threat posed by our lack of action on the environment – all add levels of unprecedented
speed and complexity to the leadership challenge. Life, society, business, technology and business cycles are moving ever faster. Speed of learning becomes the one attribute that separates the winners from the rest. The undeniable conclusion?
TRANSEARCH Orxestra © author and organisational culture expert Dr John O. Burdett describes ten imperatives that are critical to achieving your talent management agenda, starting with the CEO who must be the organisation’s Chief Talent Officer.
“Talent management is a system, not a series of stand-alone processes.”
No organization can afford to put talent management on the backburner. The loss of experience as the baby-boom generation retires, the overall shortage of talented leaders, the absolute need to engage and retain high-potential employees at every level of the organization, and an environment which demands that organizations continually do more with less, all combine to make talent management a Board-level priority.
How do organizations get it right? What lessons have we learned over the years? In reviewing their own talent management agenda what questions should those at the organization’s helm be asking? What follows are ten talent management imperatives; ten issues that, left unaddressed, put at risk the entire talent management agenda.
“The expression ‘change the culture’ is a misnomer. If elements of what you need tomorrow don’t exist today it is virtually impossible to create them.”
Nature offers lessons to us all. When the wind blows strongest it is the tree with the capability to bend that survives. Growth based on yesterday’s success, rigidity, strength without agility, may well be acceptable when the sun is shining, but in the midst of a gale they are features that will bring down the sturdiest oak.
We are living in turbulent times. Faced with uncertainty, leaders have a choice:
Change, of course, means taking people with you. Not so easy when many of those who fill front-line roles carry scar-tissue from the last initiative. Not so easy when the majority of the workforce see change as simply another way to say “more work”. Not so easy when the organisation’s culture is viewed as a mysterious and impenetrable cloud.
When the tempest rages, those who survive and grow are not the most aggressive, the toughest, or even the smartest. Evolution teaches us that survival lies largely in the capacity to adapt. Put a different way, your ability to ride out the current storm rests, in no small measure, on the extent to which your organisation has made culture an integral part of the leadership conversation.
Consider the following questions.
If your answers amount to “not recently,” or “very little” then your culture is managing you. Does it matter? In the worst of times (now) it matters a great deal.
What follows are thoughts and questions that frame the culture conversation.(4) An initial response might well be that we don’t have time to get into this right now. Napoleon offers a different point of view.
When told by one of his Marshals that the French had lost the day, he looked up and said, “That may be so, but there is still enough time to make sure we win tomorrow’s battle.” And there will be a new battle in the morning!
Culture isn’t an abstract, will-o’-the-wisp sort of thing. It’s real, it lives, and how organisations shape their culture has a profound impact on an organisation’s ability to thrive and survive. Viewed all-too-often as an HR project, when uncertainty becomes the new norm(5) the need for the organisation’s culture to be a top team imperative emerges with full force. The conversation around culture, regardless of where or at what level in the business it takes place, benefits from the following insights:
Three colliding forces fashion today’s (unique) economic and business turmoil. Both the financial meltdown and the business slowdown have been covered extensively by the media. A third factor has, however, gone largely without comment: cultural complacency.(14) As competitive intensity increases with low wage areas of the world and recognising, for example, that India will soon have more English speakers than the US, facing a Twenty-First Century economy with a 1980s mindset is the business equivalent of trying to hold off a hungry tiger armed only with a broken stick.
Our economic future lies in having a better strategy, a far greater ability to innovate and a culture that is adaptable enough to dance around the razor-sharp claws of our Asian opponents. Simply put: continued cultural drift sounds out the death knell of our economic prosperity.
When it comes to moulding tomorrow’s business possibility we all want “I” to figure in there somewhere. The problem being, if we ignore culture, if we remain complacent, if we continue to assume strategy provides all the answers, there will be an “I”, but it will be pronounced “Mumbai” and “Shanghai.” John Legend’s song “If You Are Out There”(15) has a line that could well be an anthem for all of us. The future started yesterday and we are already late.
Remember rule number one: if you’re not managing your culture, someone else is. And rule number two…