Build a sustaining culture so your strategy keeps delivering good results
You’ve created a great new strategy. Or your going through a massive change initiative. Perhaps you just want to insure the results you have been producing continue long into the future.
Even if you successfully aligned your organization with your strategy and goals, how do you keep it going? There are way too many examples of companies that successfully implemented a new strategy or a change only to experience that dreaded backward slide.
When you align your strategy and your organization, you can effectively execute your strategies. To keep the good times rolling, you need to embed all you do into a culture that supports your strategies. Culture supports strategy. Strategy follows culture.
What is a culture?
In the simplest terms, a culture is the shared values and behavior norms adopted by a group of people. It is a set of common feelings, perceptions and beliefs about what is of value and how everyone in the group should act. A well defined and embedded culture reinforces everything your doing so everyone keeps doing it and new people quickly align with it.
Imagine your kids have some of their friends over to play. Everything seems to be going well so you go to another part of the house. When you return, bedlam has broken out. Being the good parent you are, you get all the kids behaving again. Then you leave and when you return its bedlam once again. Have you ever experienced this?
The kids developed their own reinforcing culture that caused them as a group to do things they know they shouldn’t be doing. Your kids by themselves would probably not behave this way because within your own family unit there is a different cultural norm. The kid’s group culture gives them permission and guides them toward this unacceptable behavior.
The power of cultures to shape attitudes and behavior
Cultures are incredibly powerful forces because they guide everyone toward what the culture defines as socially acceptable and preferable ways to act. Every organization on the planet earth has a culture. Spend a few minutes in most organizations and you can begin to sense something about how things are. Spend a day and it becomes obvious how their cultural norms shape group perceptions, actions and decisions.
Some you may like. Some you don’t. Yet, it’s clear why the organization is doing things in a certain way. Are they super fast and responsive to customers? Or does the customer’s needs seem to be an annoyance that has to be dealt with?
Is there keen attention to details on the manufacturing floor or more a don’t care attitude about all the little things? Does the organization seem friendly and open or is there a very protective, regimented, inflexible protocol that must be followed no matter what? Is it a very serious and somber place to work or more fun and light hearted? Is everyone relaxed or do you sense a constant tension and anxiety?
Every cultural norm drives how well the organization performs…how well it executes its strategies and the end results it produces. There is no such thing as one culture necessarily being better than another.
You might think a certain culture is awful and would change it in a heartbeat. Doing so might result in a culture that can’t support the organization’s strategies. You have to be careful about playing around with a culture until you know it’s not aligned with strategy or change initiatives and you have a good idea what would be.
Beware of trendy workplace cultures
Most of the time, management doesn’t think much about their organization’s culture. You go to work and are crazy busy all day getting things done and putting out fires. Things seem to be getting done. You might like to see some improvements but you aren’t unhappy with the way things are going. You don’t usually go around thinking about the culture itself, these unwritten social norms and cues that shape your people’s attitudes and actions.
Then you might see some catchy article about great company cultures. They usually include examples about Google, Southwest Airlines, Wegman’s and Zappos among other firms. So you start thinking about your own culture and wonder what’s right for you. The first thing you must know is that what may work for another organization is not necessarily the right culture for your organization. Borrowing someone else’s culture is a quick way to destroy what you are doing well and the results you already produce.
Don’t be too quick to think you have a culture that needs fixing because it’s not like the ones you read out in those hot trending articles and blogs. The right culture for your organization is the one that will most effectively support the execution of your strategies to your markets and customers in your industry. Culture is a sub species of strategic alignment. It’s not the entire team and support system. It’s only one part of it.
Does your culture fully align with your strategy?
If you want to sustain your strategies and change initiatives for the long haul then it would be a good idea to explore how aligned the people, parts and pieces of your organization are with where you are going. That would include your culture. Only start thinking about altering your culture if you know for sure a change in it would help you execute your strategies better.
Even then, walk softly and gently to make sure you understand how to cause your culture to change in the way you want before you move forward. You can’t change your culture with a proclamation or onetime event. And if you don’t fully understand how social and behavioral norms are established, you could end up changing your culture in a way that doesn’t align with your strategies at all.
Developing, changing and reinventing an organization’s culture is all about strategic alignment. Remember, culture supports strategy, strategy follows culture.
Schedule a phone conversation with Don Shapiro, President of First Concepts Consultants, to answer your questions and explore how this discussion could help your organization.