Management guru Peter Drucker is credited with saying: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
No matter what you are aiming for, if the culture of your organisation doesn’t support it, then it’s unlikely to work. Most change initiatives, for example, don’t fail because people can’t make them work; they fail because people don’t want to make them work.
Culture is often described as “the way that things get done round here”. Any organisation has to do two things. It has to find ways to survive and grow and it has to manage its internal relationships. These things are interdependent. Assumptions grow up around things like mission and goals and the best way to achieve them. At the same time groups work out who is “in” and who is “out”, what the pecking order is and what the rules of the game are. Together these things become the culture of the organisation.
It is no accident that successful organisations such as IKEA and Google are associated with strong organisational cultures that underpin their business outcomes. Nor is it a surprise that very often business failures are a consequence of poor or toxic cultures in which what is said about what matters is at odds with what happens in reality.
When trying to change your culture the first step is to explore what it is now and how effectively it supports what you are trying to achieve and then look to what people want it to be and use that as the basis for a practical action plan.
Imagine asking the people you work with what they would say about your organisation if they were asked questions around each of the following headings.
This framework provides the basis for a comprehensive audit and action plan to address things that need to be changed or improved
Stories are told in all organisations. The myths and legends are often about the founders of the organisation. Well known examples of founder stories are Bill Gates at Microsoft and Steve Jobs at Apple. These stories are often powerful insights into and influences on organisation culture.
Purpose and values say why an organisation exists and what matters in achieving its goals. Purpose is about your cause or belief - it is what gives meaning. Values are the guiding principles which give direction and energy. They explain to people how things are done and what things should be like for everyone. Togther they support the future direction of the organisation,
Leadership is about how leaders in the organisation are role models of its culture. What they pay attention to, and just as importantly what they don't pay attention to, as well as how they respond to crises send powerful messages to people about what really matters. Leadership is a core part of how people experience their organisation from day to day and is key to engaging employees and creating the conditions for great performance.
Relationships are about the ways in which people treat and relate to each other and the effectiveness with which different parts of an organisation work together - who is "in" and who is "out"; who speaks and who is is listened to; who exerts power and influence; and who is not listened to even when they have something important to say. Relationships are an important determinant of culture and tell us about the extent to which the organisation works collectively to achieve its shared purpose.
Customers is about the people that the organisation exists to serve, the commitments which it makes to them and the extent to which those commitments are fulfilled. This is where purpose and values impact on the world outside the organisation and are reflected in what the organisation does to identify, understand and meet its customers' needs and expectations.
Image is about the way in which the organisation presents to and is viewed by its various stakeholders whose interests and priorities may be very different. Customers and employees are both important stakeholders, but so may be lenders, shareholders and boards of trustees. Image is important in building and sustaining culture, but when image and reality don't match reputation and credibility will be quickly lost.