I’ve noticed that corporate Strategy and corporate Culture often show up in separate conversations with Leaders.
In fact, focus on corporate strategy . . . execution . . . results often receives far greater attention than the corporate culture in which those results are generated.
Why do we have Strategic Planning off-sites, but we don’t have Culture Retreats? We have Performance Reviews and Strategic Reviews, but . . . what would a Culture Review look like? My guess is a 90:10 ratio between activity spent on strategy / performance review and culture. What’s the ratio at your company? When is the last time your executive team sat down to focus specifically on your corporate culture?
I’ve learned that Culture will eat Strategy for lunch every day of the week . . . unless they are intentionally linked.
Culture is the air we breathe, the water we swim in. Too often, leaders come back from the mountaintop fired up about a new Strategic Plan that will super-charge their company’s performance, but they fail to evaluate whether their culture is conducive to executing that strategy.
If Vision and Mission and Strategy are the “Pull” on Performance, Culture is the “Push.” Unless they are considered together, strategy may well pull one direction, but culture will push another. The two need to be discussed in the same conversation.
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan do a nice job of linking the two in their 2002 bestseller, Execution – the Discipline of Getting Things Done – specifically in Chapter Four. Check it out if it’s on your bookshelf.
Consider the following value chain within a company:
VALUES >> drive >> BELIEFS >> drive >> BEHAVIORS >> drive >> RESULTS
Culture is comprised of the first three: Values, Beliefs, Behaviors. Values and Beliefs often get muddled together (just Google them). I’m reminded they are distinct when I look up their definitions.
- Values: ideals that arouse an emotional response
- Beliefs: opinions or convictions, grounded in values
- Behaviors: beliefs turned into action
Recently, I have been working with a couple of thoughtful leaders who are very focused on their corporate cultures. They each recognize the critical connection between culture and performance.
What do these conversations look like? Consider these questions as a starting point.
- Can I connect the dots running from my company’s culture to its results? Culture development must be connected to business results or it is an empty (albeit feel-good) exercise. As Bossidy and Charan say, “cultural change gets real when your aim is execution.”
- How are our behaviors and beliefs connected to our values? Values are generally NOT the place that needs focus when assessing corporate culture. “Integrity in our financial reports,” “respect for every employee,” “excellence in our products,” “profitability” – who’s going to argue with these values? Focus instead on collective behaviors, and the beliefs that drive them.
- How can we, and those we do business with, discern our cultural foundation without looking at a plaque on the wall? The funny thing about culture is that most of the really important rules aren’t found in a handbook somewhere. But everyone knows them – “that’s just how we do it around here.”
- Finally, how do I, as the Leader, reflect our culture – in my values, my beliefs, my behavior? When a leader tells me they want to change their corporate culture, my line of questioning goes directly to the leader them self. What needs to change in them – especially their behavior? We must BE the change we wish to see.
In Chapter Five of their book, You’re In Charge — NOW What?, Thomas Neff and James Citrin quote CEOs Lou Gerstner and Chris Lofgren:
Before his IBM days, Lou Gerstner considered culture just one element in an organization’s makeup, no more intrinsic to success than any other aspect of good management. But the decade he spent morphing IBM from industry dinosaur to dynamic leader convinced him otherwise.
Gerstner [now] says, “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it IS THE game.”
Chris Lofgren, chief executive of Schneider National, the large transportation and logistics company believes that “culture is a foundation upon which you build your long-term strategy. If you build a strategy that isn’t consistent with the culture, it isn’t going to work.”
- What would an outsider like me detect about your culture by spending a day watching and listening at your company?
- When is the last time you had a conversation about culture at your company?
- How is culture referenced within your company’s strategic plan?
Let me know. I’d enjoy hearing what you’re learning about Culture.