Culture is your new strategy
I rarely hear leaders talk negatively about their corporate culture. The culture, the people and the values have become a modern leader’s favorite answers to questions of success. But the culture that took us here can also be the one that falls us ahead.
The fact that culture can stand in the way of an organization’s strategy is an established truth. Even so, we do not seem inclined to handle culture as a strategic issue in management and boards. We perceive culture as a result of our collective experience, rather than as a tool for achieving results.
I made that mistake myself during my years as CEO of the digital agency Good Old. When we grew to 18 employees and competing agencies started selling on our unique offer, we became focused on organization and result. We solved the most critical problems, but never took time to plan for what leadership our managers would stand for in our bigger format. Or how we could use the employees’ collective ability to identify our new niche.
Because culture permeates a business, it also seeks to address business-critical issues. It can be anything from customer support to ethical considerations, brand issues and the ability to attract and keep the right people.
In my role in innovation and transformation, it becomes clear when the culture blocks new ideas and products like a body that repels a new organ. New ideas and experiments are sometimes seen as distractions in an already stressful working day. And the projects that do not fit into the existing structure can be actively opposed.
What gave us success in the industrial age was clear processes, the ability to manage and reduce the number of deviations, professional experience and skills. They now stand in the way when the market requires new products, innovation in business models and employees with the ability to learn and adapt.
Right now, talent acquisition seems to be on the lips of many boards. But do we have the right culture to attract them? And how do we plan to change the culture to take advantage of the new talents and develop with them?
As long as culture is seen as fluffy compared to a clear and well-formulated strategy, strategic issues will own the agenda in the boardrooms. But with a method for changing the culture, the need for goals and governance is reduced. Employees can then take on the change without even looking at the strategy document that is aging in the manager’s laptop.