There is a reason that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture is the foundation. Strategy and all the big goals that follow are more likely to be accomplished if they are aligned with your organization’s culture.
If you want a garden that yields vibrant plants, the soil better be good, rich in minerals and nutrients. Culture is the soil in which everything else grows. You can have good yields for a couple years even with bad soil but it won’t continue. You will deplete the soil and then nothing of value will grow. I know I am showing my “raised in Iowa” roots!
I am lucky. When I work with a client organization over a number of years, I experience the culture. Yet I am still able stand back more easily as an external, more objective observer. I hear and see where things don’t fit. I don’t have a stake in it so it is easier for me to see it clearly. The worst culture mistakes are when a company tries to adopt a cultural attribute or program that sounds really good (and is getting a lot of buzz) but doesn't match how they run their business. It is far worse to say one thing and do another than to act in a way that is true, even if is perceived as negative.
Alternative work arrangements are a case in point. When they are well executed, there is already an accountability and ownership culture in place. People understand the expectations and have clear goals. When the foundation for these programs is not in place, it is a free for all and performance suffers. It’s far better to wait to adopt a remote work policy than it is to implement it prematurely.
What is most important about culture is that it emerges from the way you run your business. And just like operational excellence, you must be intentional and vigilant about creating it. Whatever you are trying to create must be supported by consistent language and behavior: your management practices (how you really treat people), your policies, compensation, recognition and how you execute on your values. When your culture is not congruent with your stated intention, everyone knows it. Your lips may be moving but your feet are pointing in a different direction.
I have numerous recent examples and no doubt so do you. It takes a lot of intentionality to say, “we want to be this” and to align all your language and practices with what you intend. It's worth it. Not only will you achieve a great yield from the investment you make in your culture, you will be more likely to attract and retain stellar people who are aligned with your culture. It’s no secret that the best cultures are able to attract the best people. Don’t despair! If you start improving your business operations today, your culture will follow. Regardless of where you start, some of your best people will find it exciting and choose to stay. Before you know it, your business, culture and people will be flourishing.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.