By Mattson Newell (@MattsonNewell), Director at Partners In Leadership.
Organizational leaders reported in a recent Global Workplace Accountability Study conducted by Partners In Leadership that to improve business results they spend seventy-four percent of their time on strategy and twenty-six percent of their time on culture. But when asked, "Which has the most impact on our Business Results, culture or strategy?" a whopping ninety-six percent of leaders said that culture has a greater impact.
If most leaders readily agree that company culture has a greater impact on achieving business results--or not achieving them--why do many leaders still spend more resources on strategy than on culture?
Unfortunately, too many leaders don't even know where to start when it comes to building culture. Instead, many default to strategy because, let's face it, at least we know what strategy looks like--how to create, communicate, and measure it. Other leaders take a superficial approach to culture, and as a result, culture work is at-risk of becoming a passing fad, a "soft-side" of the business phenomenon that is fueled by ongoing after work socials, team building exercises and a host of other well-intended activities focused on driving the right culture in organizations around the world.
But the best leaders do more. They actively shape their culture by asking three questions from time to time:
1. Is our culture producing the necessary results?
Simply stated, culture produces results. Your organizational culture is directly aligned to achieve the results you are achieving today. If you want to achieve new, better, different results, you need a new, better, different culture.
A common trap we see is that organizations try to tie culture directly into assessments and culture surveys. While those have their place, at the end of the day there needs to be clarity and a direct correlation between your culture and results.
After a global energy company missed their numbers year after year for five years straight, the CEO said, "We tried everything: re-did our strategy, spent much needed capital, re-tooled our marketing and none of it was moving the needle. Finally, we gave Culture a try." The transformation, and results, were immediate: six months after they started actively working on culture, the company hit their numbers for eight quarters straight.
2. Is our culture aligned with our strategy?
Does our culture and strategy seamlessly work together or is there a conflict and competition between them? If so, you are dealing with a credibility issue as people hear you say one thing, but your strategy says something entirely different. It's the old saying you are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
If you are trying to establish a culture of quality, but your strategy is focused solely on quality, it creates cultural friction throughout the organization and a belief that you aren't serious about living your culture.
Think of the tie between culture and strategy at some of the most well-known brands in the world. Disney's strategy is to create a memorable, world-class experience every time a guest visits one of their parks. It links this strategy directly to its internal culture of creating a memorable world-class experience for all of its employees. Apple strategically drives to lead the industry in innovation; to support these results, Apple has actively created a strong company culture of innovation.
3. Is our culture current and evolving?
We've probably all been there: walking past a "Cultural Values" poster on the wall that was created in 1948. Too often, cultural values become static, elevator music in the background that is present, but not impactful.
Culture is not something to be written in stone. If you want to get results, culture must evolve with strategy. A misaligned culture produces undesirable results. Amazon has had to evolve their culture with their strategy a number of times over the years, as they have moved from an internet bookshop, to expanding into DVDs and CDs to toys and electronics to the world's biggest online retailer. Their values have always remained the same, those are timeless, but their culture has evolved to match their evolving strategy.
Creating Results and Shaping Change
Peter Drucker said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Shape your culture to align with strategy, and you'll feast on exceptional results. The first step is to assess if you have a high performing culture by asking three questions: 1) Is your culture helping you produce your desired results? 2) Is your culture aligned with your strategy? 3) Is your culture current and evolving? Use these answers as a roadmap: check, adjust and align your culture - and be well on your way to achieving desired results.