Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Strategy Versus Culture

For some reason, whenever a leader wants to affect a big shift in the organization, it’s culture that gets picked on. But is culture the problem or the answer?

Some time ago, a lottery company asked for my help in changing their culture. I listened to what they had in mind. Most of the changes they described were tactical, about business strategy.  So I took a time out and asked them to tell me about their culture, and then about their values. They were able to describe that culture and list those values quickly. After they’d finished, I asked them if they still believed in respect, honesty, customer service, and execution. They said that they did. There was a pause as this sunk in. I suggested to the group that they weren’t really interested in changing their culture, they were looking to change their business plan. This insight completely rearranged how they were looking to solve their problems.

In fact, the lottery company, like any organization, would be more successful implementing change if they did so from the foundation of their unchanging culture. In the last section of my book Inside the Box, the final chapter is subtitled “Culture trumps strategy every time.”  The reason is simple. Deeply rooted behaviours define the values, which are the bedrock of the culture. These elements are the basis for success in the organization. Their taught or passed on from one generation of employees to the next.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Don't Change Your Culture, Celebrate It!

I see it time and again. Culture is what makes an organization unique. If you try and fight that culture, you’ll lose every time. If you embrace it, you give yourself a better chance to win.

Most recently, I was working with a large university hospital to define the unique attributes and behaviours that make their leaders successful. The hospital is over 200 years old and has a long and proud history.  While talking with different employees at different levels about leadership, it became clear that the leaders who made the most meaningful contributions to the organization were those that lived and celebrated the hospital’s values. Those that failed or sputtered out just “didn’t fit” or “tried to change our culture.”