There’s a lot written about organisational culture and culture change today – and views of what culture means and how important it is to an organization’s success are diverse. At one extreme are the skeptics who believe culture is the ‘warm and fuzzy stuff’ that the HR Department looks after, while at the other end of the continuum are those who believe that culture is critical to business success and is intrinsic in how business is carried out, how customers are treated, and how employees feel about working there.
Our view based on many years of experience and supported by countless research studies, tells us that while organizations with poor cultures can indeed be successful, it is far less likely that this will be the case – and where they are successful, it is likely to be short-term. It is also interesting to witness those organizations that have remained strong in the face of sub-optimal market conditions, in many cases due to a strong culture to start with.
So What is Culture?
Culture can simply be described as ‘how things are done around here’ or more technically, the shared values, norms and expectations. However culture is typically complex, and having become established over time, can be very resistant to change.
In summary, culture permeates an organisation and encompasses the following:
- The way things are done in an organisation
- The values of the people in the organisation and their relationships with each other
- How decisions are made, where money is spent and how successfully the strategy is implemented
- The history of the organisation shaping the way it is now
- Hopes for the future
If Executive Teams don’t manage their culture, the culture will manage them.
Culture change work is therefore one of the biggest challenges a CEO and executive team will face. The unexpected potency of culture can be both a blessing and a curse for organizations as they ponder strategic and human resource issues. Yet culture change is not impossible, it just takes a clear, planned approach.
There is a lot of confusion about what a values-based culture is and how it actually enables success. Our philosophy is that there are really two areas of focus in any culture change: (1) the need to become a values-based culture and (2) develop a culture which is ‘fit-for-purpose’. What do we mean by this?
A Values-based Culture is One Where:
- People feel valued and respected.
- There are high levels of honesty and integrity.
- There are high levels of trust.
- People communicate directly and openly to solve business issues and foster healthy and productive relationships.
- Values are implicit in decision making.
A fit-for-purpose culture simply means a culture that enables an organisation to implement its strategy successfully. For example, if speed-to-market is important in order to trump your competitors, then the organisation has better focus on killing off bureaucracy. If you’ve taken a stand on delivering exceptional customer service, then ensure that people are empowered to make the right decisions at the right time in order to provide it, rather than slavishly follow a procedures manual.
Developing a values-based culture and one that is fit-for-purpose are interdependent and equally important. While it can be easily argued that a values-based culture will enable success, any culture change work also needs to be in alignment with the organisation’s mission and strategic objectives.