Why is it that even though so many leaders claim to understand the impact and importance of leadership that it gets left on the back burner and doesn’t seem to get the attention it should deserve?
The answer is simple. Because culture is hard, takes time, and actually very few leaders know how to change it, or improve it.
Creating a new Vision or Strategy is easy by comparison, you knock up some nice powerpoints, make some nice statements and off you go.
The challenge is that without the right Culture your strategy and vision are doomed, or at least if not doomed they will take longer to achieve than if you had the right culture, and the results will not be sustainable and will be just as hard to repeat.
Culture takes time, and sometimes you don’t see the benefits for months. With the pressure on leaders to deliver this is why people focus first on vision and strategy because they want to get the ball rolling. Every new leader has a hundred-day plan where they want to make an impact in the first 100 days, and culture rarely features because it can take time.
But this is short-term thinking, here you are jettisoning long-term benefits in favor of having a quick impact and protecting your job.
In reality, you have to do both.
Yes, you need to get some quick wins, some points on the board, but you also need to start to work on culture pretty much from day one.
You need to understand the current culture for three reasons
Culture is critical for your organisations long-term success, and here are three reasons why you need to focus on it from the start.
Peter Drucker shows the importance of culture when he said ‘Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast’. By this, he meant that if your culture is counter to your strategy the culture wins every time. Culture drives 90% of your people’s actions and it’s what guides them when there is no one there to lead them.
I worked for a company that wanted to increase its level of innovation, this was the stated strategy, but it failed to materialize.
Why because the organization had a culture that had a low tolerance to risk and one that was openly critical of people who made mistakes. This resulted in an organization that was told to innovate but who were risk-averse and didn’t want to fail and so didn’t innovate because it was counter-culture.
If we work to change the culture, encourage people to take small risks, smart risks, and don’t criticize or punish people who fail then the chance of creating an innovative culture is a possibility.
Once you change the culture, and you have the culture working for you then the results will not only be sustainable but also repeatable. At one company we focused on putting in place a culture of continuous improvement and as we started to see success and the teams learned how to improve things, then they would come to me with suggestions of improvements we could make.
Now the culture was pulling the strategy, the teams didn’t need me to set goals they set the goals themselves.
Not only does culture help you deliver your strategy, but it also allows you to get big bold goals and have every confidence in achieving them.
I have seen this time and time again throughout my career where we have set goals of improving performance by 10 or 20 percent, but once we have the culture in place and we have achieved improvements of between 50-500%.
Culture creates a self-perpetuating momentum and the compound impact of that can be truly amazing. Not only is this true in business but in any walk of life.
I was a non-runner when I decided to run my first marathon, and many people laughed when I told them that, but now having changed my own personal culture, my habits to include running 3-5 days per week I have now run, not just one marathon, but 12. If you had told me that I would not have believed it, but this is what can happen when we change the culture.
The power of culture is immense and those leaders that can learn how to adapt it, to mold it towards the companies strategies and goals will become invaluable to their organisation and put themselves in demand.
If you’d like to learn more about how to create a culture and drive the culture your organization needs then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk about how I can help.