You've probably heard the mantra "culture eats strategy for breakfast." Attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, this is corporate-speak to identify purpose-led businesses that value people first. 

The big idea is that a company's culture will trump any effort by a management team to enforce a strategy that is incompatible with that culture. While you can have the best strategy in the world, a negative culture prevents strategy execution. That's why culture eats strategy for breakfast. And, I might add, lunch, dinner, and the midnight snack. 

Robert Swan, chief executive of the world's biggest chipmaker, Intel, is the latest in a line of high-profile executives overhauling a troubling culture by attempting to reinvent it. Swan, 59, recently told The New York Times that his company had a "hidden problem."

Now that the problem is out in plain view of everyone, Swan, who was promoted to CEO at Intel a year ago, has aimed to replace outdated corporate rituals and practices that no longer serve Intel, particularly its 110,000 global employees.

There are some good lessons here that leaders of any-size companies can learn from Intel's recent makeover. While Swan's efforts remain a work in progress, the Times report notes that "his emphasis on changing the 51-year-old company's culture has sharply accelerated progress."

Here are three tips Swan shared with the Times

1. A culture of transparency

"If you have a problem, put it on the table," said Swan. By kicking off the culture change initiative with a "One Intel" slogan to unify his global team, Swan urged workers to be "bolder, to be more attentive to customers, and to honor 'truth and transparency.'"

He's on the right track. Transparency is a good model for fostering intellectual and emotional honesty across an enterprise, which leads to positive work culture.

Being transparent will address a "hidden problem" in your organization. It promotes inclusion, idea sharing, and psychological safety among teams so that when problems arise, employees can confront issues more openly, get more honest with one another, and collaborate more effectively.

And when leaders are more transparent, it helps employees get a better understanding of why certain decisions are made.

2. A culture of information sharing

Swan said there were "deeply rooted problems" at Intel, including managers who saw the hoarding of information as a good thing.

Here's the real reason your managers may be hoarding and withholding information: It's about power and control. And control is one of the most effective ways to kill trust. A leader hoarding information to control his environment and the people in it cannot be trusted. Future leaders will have to responsibly share information and display personal and organizational transparency with their people.

To counter the effects of hoarding, one Intel executive pushed for more inclusive ways to design products. He enlisted design teams from different groups around the company to share information and pitch in their ideas, which broke "the rules of how we've ever done a product," he said.

3. A culture of agility

Intel lived by bureaucracy, like most organizations, until Swan took the helm. Meetings have since been cut down, and employees are now being encouraged to "begin presentations by listing problems rather than what was working well"--which gets to the root of issues and solutions faster. 

With its newfound approach to "one"-ness and everyone moving in the same direction, Intel is able to foster intrapreneurship--an agile system that encourages employees to think and act like individual entrepreneurs and empowers them to take action, embrace risk, and make decisions. 

As a result, Intel has sped up product design by allowing input from multiple groups, something you never saw prior to Swan. Collaboration between manufacturing and design engineers, which had been estranged in the past, also improved. 

Swan said, "We have the smartest people in the world," but he left all caretakers of a company culture with one overarching question concerning employees: "How do you get them rowing in the same direction?"

Published on: Mar 4, 2020
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