01 June 2018
As a long term technologist and engineer, I have been developing, implementing and operating technology innovations to achieve improvements in business performance for over 25 years. However the single biggest wake-up call for me remains the day - many years ago - that I learned a harsh lesson about the critical importance of organisational culture as a requisite factor in the success of any business change.
“I used to believe that culture was ‘soft,’ and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I know today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.”
– Vern Dosch, author, Wired Differently
There has been, and there continues to be, a misguided notion that innovative technology can solve all business issues, but this woefully misses the point that almost all organisations have people and people use the technology, people make the company work or fail. So why can’t we develop, invest in and measure culture the same way as do other assets? Why don’t more business invest in culture as a competitive advantage?
Unfortunately, the answer is that understanding the material value of culture still, surprisingly, remains a mystery to many executives and yet, it has rapidly become recognised as a requisite component in the arsenal of tools and techniques that leaders must learn to adopt to gain the most from any investments made - especially those that involve organisational change of any scale. In modern business the value of culture is hard to overestimate.
“Company Culture is the product of a company’s values, expectations and environment.”
– Courtney Chapman, Product Manager, Rubicon Project
As the nature of what it means to be doing business and the industries in which businesses operate continue to change so it surely follows that the people, processes and strategies in businesses must also adapt, adopt and evolve. An organisation’s culture should be the framework of natural and intuitive behaviours, values, responsibilities, objectives, practices, measures, relationships, communications and assumptions which are actively institutionalised.
Prevailing business wisdom - admittedly from grizzled industry veterans - encourages more investment of executive management time on identifying, cultivating and encouraging good organisational culture. Yet, when you enter boardrooms it isn’t a yet a regular topic in the majority of instances and on the rare occasions where it is present, it is often badly misunderstood and naturally considered the sole preserve of the HR department.
“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.”
– David Cummings, Co-Founder, Pardot
Now, I have become an industry veteran myself - and I hate saying that out loud! - I have come to understand that there are simple set of things that can be done to help elevate culture as the secret weapon to drive organisational performance and, ultimately, success - after all why do it unless it leads to something meaningful and positive. The key is to something about it and not to expect it to happen without stimulus - as the saying goes “if you want something to change, you have to change something”.
Start with some simple things...
|People:||ensure your people fit into the culture you want to have - hire people to drive the culture you want to see evolve in your organisation|
|Communicate:||continuously communicate and reinforce expected behaviours and culture factors all over your organisation top to bottom - no exceptions|
|Empower:||ensure your people are accountable and able to behave according to defined organisational values - reward behaviours regularly|
|Simplify:||don’t over complicate things - culture should be simple to understand - keep it that way by making related initiatives as simple as possible|
|Motivate:||customers will never love an organisation unless the people in it love it first - get your people involved in culture, find advocates|
|Proactive:||cultivating culture is not a one-time activity - it should be continuous and responsive to internal and external stimulus - culture evolves|
What should be clear is that culture is a core business management issue, not just an HR issue that is only considered at the end of every financial year. To achieve successful cultural change organisations must make it the first priority in their strategy. Cultural is an embodiment of how an organisational ecosystem behaves and responds. It’s good to think of every CxO and Senior Manager, especially the CEO, as being, in fact, the Chief Cultural Officers for an organisation - behaviour starts by example.
“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur's job is to build the foundation.”
— Brian Chesky, Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb
Over the years I have read many reports and viewed analysis data to indicate that a growing majority of business people believe that culture could lead to potential competitive advantage and yet, much of the tools, technologies and methods remain rooted in old-world HR quality measures. For an organisation to invest in technological change without investing in their culture is like upgrading a car and forgetting to tell the driver - it doesn’t get very far until the drive has become familiar with the new car.
Fortunately, being a technology geek means I keep watch for potential developments which could prove to be useful. Several of these technologies have been evolving for some time; like Big Data, Social Networking, and Unified Communications. The rapidly maturing of Artificial Intelligence (including Machine and Deep Learning) combined with modern Leadership, People and Organisational Development methods is also going to lead to better tools becoming available that will allow organisational leaders to make proactive decisions about culture the same way that they can with other assets.
With growing focus and prioritisation, I am confident that culture will finally get recognition at board level deserving of its significant importance to organisational performance. I strongly believe that being able to view culture metrics alongside other traditional business metrics will provide greater opportunities for organisations to adapt to more intense market dynamics.
“Anything that is measured and watched proactively, improves.”
— Bob Parsons, Founder of Godaddy group
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