When leaders do something about their company’s culture, there is a culture, and when they do nothing about their company’s culture, there is a culture. Cultures are as natural as life itself and as inevitable as the sunrise. The only question leaders have to answer is whether the culture they have is the culture their company needs.
If you could look deeply into a company’s culture, you would see the dreams of its leaders – past and present – about winning and success. Unfortunately, the reality of these dreams is often diminished by the nightmares of the culture’s “won’t dos.” Many of these “won’t dos” are the legacy of the culture’s origins and so deeply buried in its fabric that they will never be clearly understood or changed.
It is this power of culture to generate good or bad that prompted Lou Gerstner, when reflecting on his time as CEO of IBM, to conclude: Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game. In the end, a company is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. Gerstner came to IBM thinking that his challenge was much like the one he faced at American Express – change the company’s focus, retool key processes, and wake up the executive team. He had it partly right, but what he discovered after a few false starts is what Merck CEO, Richard Clark, meant when he said: Culture eats strategy for lunch. You can have a good strategy, but if you don’t have the culture . . . that allows you to implement that strategy, the culture will defeat the strategy. That’s because of what a culture is:
The shared, beliefs, values, and mindsets about success held by a group that determines the thinking and behavior of its members.
It is this deterministic nature of a culture that makes it virtually impossible to name a single company that is a recognized leader in its industry (Apple, Boeing, Walmart, etc.) that does not have a distinctive, readily identifiable culture. While strategy, market presence, technology, and so forth are important drivers, industry leading companies have always capitalized on the power of an energizing culture to ensure its success.
As we shall see, a strong and healthy culture starts with a clear definition of success based on the values and beliefs of its leaders. Values serve to give tone and meaning to the leadership team’s beliefs about success and how it is achieved. We have created a tool that takes a deep dive into these beliefs from two perspectives: current culture and needed culture. We call the tool the CultureMap™ and use it to measure five major categories of cultural beliefs and twenty-three sub-categories:
• Beliefs about what is to be achieved – results and reputation
• Beliefs about how the wants and needs of stakeholders are to be addressed – compassion, community, remarkable employer, world-class customer experience, and safety
• Beliefs about the best way to win – customer centricity, quality, ethics, staying fresh, innovation, flexibility, performance, and time horizon
• Beliefs about personal conduct – open, status, respect, competent, and team
• Beliefs about what is cool and differentiating about the enterprise – polished, hip, and fun
The results are presented in such a way as to provoke discussion. The useful points covered include:
• Major differences between “is” and “should be” for each of the sub-categories
• Whether closing the gap between “is” and “should be” is necessary
• The definition of success the current culture supports and how it differs from the should-be definition of success
• What has changed about the company and its business environment that necessitates changing the culture
• Actions currently underway that will move the cultural needle in a positive direction
• The “won’t dos” that hinder efforts to move toward “should be”
What’s most important is not the metrics so much as the discussion provoked by them. It is in these discussions that the team comes together on the reality of the culture they want to have and how to go about achieving it.
What are the biggest gaps between where your culture is and where it should be? What “won’t dos” are preventing you from creating the culture your company needs?
Learn how to close the gaps between what your culture is and what it should be with our whitepaper: What Is Organizational Culture?