The American economist Peter Drucker put it so nicely: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” Of what use is the most beautiful target picture and the most sophisticated vision if the team doesn’t pull along? Most transformations don’t fail because of technology or incomplete process maps. Creating the right culture mobilizes the required forces. This is a task for real leaders.
So how do you create the right culture? Or one step before – how do you determine which culture is the right one? As always, this starts at the very top. One of the most important tasks of a CEO is to shape and exemplify this culture as the head of the organization. The rest of the board and dedicated communications departments can, of course, support him, but one thing hasn’t changed over the centuries: The herd always looks at the leader and imitates his behavior.
Therefore, the culture must fit the boss and he must not only present it credibly and authentically but also lead by example at all times. Then it cascades step by step through the organization. There are both internal and external elements to shape the culture.
I refer to the value system and the behavior derived from it as inner elements. A lot of work is necessary here. First of all, the values have to be determined and their meaning clarified. As already described in chapter 4.3, everyone must have the same understanding of the values. Then you can derive expected behavior patterns from these values and anchor them via the executives.
A very well-known Dutch company has engineered this to the details. They have analytically broken the behaviors down to the individual employee goals and integrated them into the performance assessment. In this way, they ensure that expectations are described consistently and that everyone is committed to them. However, this approach is not always effective in every company.
Other companies are more playful. They anchor culture through creative competitions and decorative elements. This is important because the culture is not just a matter of the mind, but the heart.
After all, there are also outer elements of the culture. In addition to the brand and the slogan, the premises are especially important. I can’t think innovatively and collaboratively in individual offices. Our daily environment provides the framework for our work.
Each member of the Executive Board needs to act as a role model. A board is not authentic when it proclaims the Agile transformation but still hides in individual offices behind the secretary. Is that difficult to implement? The effort involved in redesigning a room is minimal compared to the effort involved in changing organizational culture. Besides, such an outer signs contributes massively to driving the inner change.
I have witnessed some change processes and have also played a leading role in shaping them. They are never easy, but always exciting. As engineer and project manager, I initially found it difficult to admit how complex such cultural change processes are. In contrast to my IT projects, this was not easy to break down linearly. The effort for implementation and rollout is much higher here.
But just like there, concentrated work is necessary to bring about cultural change. In any case, it is important to create an authentic culture that is consistent with the corporate strategy. Gaps between proclaimed and lived values and behaviors only create a fake culture for the public relations, but no real change – and it destroys employee identification and commitment.
What about you?
Do you have a clear corporate culture in your company?
Are proclaimed and lived values identical in your company?
Have you ever experienced a cultural change?
What measures would you take to establish a coherent culture?