“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Pick up any business magazine and you’ll likely see the word ‘culture’; no matter the industry, when someone talks about improving organizational performance, they often call for ‘culture change’. But how many of the articles talk about how to do it?
My business partner and I have spent the past fifteen years helping leaders create breakthroughs in organizational performance. We agree with Mr. Drucker: culture is key. Organizational performance happens through people — and organizational culture determines how people perform.
But we’ve also learned a secret — and the reason no one talks about how to change culture: culture itself is not actionable. There is no best-practice to follow, no strategy to implement, no speech to give, software to purchase (or consultants to hire) to directly influence culture.
There is no knob on the management dashboard labelled ‘culture’.
Organizational culture is the by-product of how leaders think, speak and act — what they pay attention to, how they spend their time, who they spend time with, who they promote and dismiss, what they reward and what upsets them. Everything leaders do affects culture; how leaders do whatever they do affects culture; and perceptions of why leaders do what they do, propagates culture.
There is no knob for culture — but every knob adjusts it.
So, if you’re out to change your organization’s culture in 2018, we recommend you begin with some reflection.
- What’s your mission? Why are you in the business you’re in? Ignore, for a moment, the anodyne words on the poster in the lobby and get real for a moment: what are you up to? What’s the ‘why’ behind your work?
- What’s your mindset? How do you feel about the mission? Is it real and significant to you personally? Is it possible? Most importantly, do you feel a sense of personal commitment and responsibility to it — that is, do you see how you contribute to the why behind your work?
- What’re your habits? What routines do you follow each day? What do you do when you’re on auto-pilot or under stress? Most significantly what do other people see and hear you doing most-often? What do your most-frequent behaviors reveal about your mindset and mission? Does what you do, reflect how you feel about why you work?
- What’re your structures? What are the ‘rituals’ of your organization: the meetings that you never miss, the metrics everyone follows, the performance reviews that occur every week / month / year without fail? What messages do these conversations send? Are they informed by your mission? Do they promote the desired mindset and habits?
As a leader, everything you do influences others — so it’s vital to begin with a clear intention and constructive mindset; it’s crucial that your behaviors and conversations create the desired effect on others; it’s imperative that who you are and what you do and how you influence people reflect and further the why behind your work.
Best wishes from Humanus Solutions for a fulfilling, purposeful and productive 2018!