The best tactics in the world, the most creative of ideas, and spirited exuberance among colleagues – these are the ideal ingredients to guarantee your company a bright future and continued success, right?
Sorry to disappoint you, but all these positive attributes and more will all come to naught if it lacks the right – yes, you know it, so just say it – culture.
Strategy for breakfast
Now, let’s take it one meal at a time.
Wasn’t it Peter Drucker who said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast?” Although most of us can attest to the importance of both strategy and culture, anecdotally most organisations seem to pay more attention to the former rather than the latter.
I like the way assistant marketing manager Elise Mackay put it when she wrote on her blog that “culture is going to be the driver of your business, and strategy is the road map. So if we don’t have the engine, we’re not going to get where we want to go.”
Let’s take a look at the elements that constitute this often neglected ingredient. Having read through a whole series of definitions, I’ve come to a conclusion that when we refer to culture, we’re looking at attitudes, values, and beliefs that transcend an organisation. In other words, it’s the way we do things around the office.
For Shawn Parr, CEO of Bulldog Drummond, “culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death. Think about it like a nurturing habitat for success. Culture cannot be manufactured. It has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down. Ignoring the health of your culture is like letting aquarium water get dirty.”
Some industry pundits have even gone as far to say that “corporate culture” is, to a large extent, determined and defined by the company’s CEO. Personalities that fit within this framework would include the likes of Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin), and Howard Schultz (Starbucks).
The word that often crops up when discussing the ideal form of culture to have in a positively motivated, growth-oriented organisation is “vibrant.”
Some of the building blocks that enable this outcome include:
- A dynamic, involved, and passionate leadership.
- Living values that are embraced by all departments and exuded by every staff member.
- Objective empowerment across rank and file.
- And the non-incriminating openness in celebrating both victories and failures.
Innovation for lunch
“An organisation’s culture must support the seeds of innovation if the innovation is to bear fruit,” says Mick Simonelli in a piece entitled “Culture Eats Innovation for Lunch.”
In this hyper-challenging and competitive business arena that we operate in today, not many of us will deny that ideas constitute our lifeblood. However, without the right culture in place, the most potent of these will not be granted the right to exist, let alone survive.
It is excruciatingly naïve to think that these bright sparks can gestate solely by themselves. For ideas to bear fruit, every facet of the organisation must support the initiative – much like a seed that requires the perfect blend of soil, fertilizer, water, air, light, and multiple pairs of “green” fingers to nurture it!
An often quoted example of what went wrong is the story of Kodak. The Economist article, “The Last Kodak Moment?,” accurately portrayed Kodak as the Google of its time, but then pointed out how the culture of Kodak did not allow its discoveries to flourish. It was a case of going from hero to zero.
Despite its fair share of inventions and patents, these still led the company to bankruptcy. No deliberate pun intended, but culture must be incriminated as the guilty culprit in Kodak’s demise.
Passion for dinner
There is nothing more devastating to an organisation than having the flames of passion amongst employees constantly extinguished by the conservative, narrow-minded, and misaligned culture of its senior management.
Line managers can only do what’s within their limited scope to stoke the fire and inculcate a high sense of mission across members in their teams.
This symptom is especially evident across legacy companies where traditional business models are threatened by irreverent nimble entrants with absolutely nothing to lose.
The overarching support from the upper ranks is crucial for success to take place. Shawn Parr puts this succinctly, saying, “It’s one thing to have beliefs and values spelled out in a frame in the conference room. It’s another thing to have genuine and memorable beliefs that are directional, alive, and modeled throughout the organisation daily.”
Torben Rick talks about culture being “today’s major performance differentiator.” The “vibrant” culture necessary for today’s new world order needs to be dynamically evolving and visibly engaging.
With or without big-name, charismatic leaders spearheading the outfit, corporate CEOs nonetheless need to effectively communicate its forward-thinking vision and mission clearly and embrace these enthusiastically, which will in turn drive change.
Without a positive dose of the right culture together with its clear sense of purpose and shared values, the most passionate sentiments are often quickly dissipated, leaving a trail of disillusioned foot soldiers in its wake.
Fix the gut, future proof your organisation
Author Daniel Patrick Forrester observed that “leaders under-communicate about their vision, values, and desired behaviours amid the churn of daily activity.”
The age old idiom, “Procrastination is the thief of time,” still holds true even in this day and age. There is simply no escaping the investment of time to establish a high-performing corporate culture that attempts to understand the nuances of the real world. This includes embracing disruptions as a necessary part of the reinvention process.
The failed merger attempt between advertising giants Omnicom and Publicis is a clear example of differences in culture. Dumping separate sets of values into a melting pot and hoping something good is going to come out of it is often the most futile of moves to make.
Culture “fix” precedes strategy, innovation, and passion! Brent Gleeson, co-founder and CMO of Internet Marketing Inc., suggests six steps to get your business back on track. In short:
- Take action now.
- Audit your team.
- Look at your customers.
- Redefine your loyalties.
- Get back on track.
- Communicate clearly.
In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong in having strategy for breakfast, innovation for lunch, and passion for dinner. This issue is not the diet. We just need to fix the gut!