When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ~ Mae West
A culture isn’t good or bad in and of itself. Cultures develop by design or default based on numerous causal factors. When people say this company has a ‘bad’ culture or that company has a ‘good’ culture, they are usually describing the culture in relation to something else. Perhaps it is in relation to employee engagement or overall morale. This is the common connotation used when most people talk about good or bad cultures. But for the CEO and the success and sustainability of the company, another important comparison is between the culture and the business strategy.
Corporate culture either supports and empowers the strategy, or acts as a barrier. While strategy determines the direction the company takes across the competitive landscape, culture supplies both the fuel and the constraints. A culture well aligned with the strategy provides alignment between actions and objectives and offers little constraint. A culture aligned with the strategy can, in most cases, provide significant leverage for effective strategy execution. A culture out of alignment with the strategy adds multiple constraints and significantly slows down the process of strategy execution.
A strategy can only be effectively deployed if the culture supports it. And yet a strong culture will not make up for a weak strategy.
“They may be aligned, but they’re headed in the wrong direction!”
Southwest Airlines is a classic example of an effective, and designed, relationship between strategy and culture. Southwest turns a plane (the time elapsed from parking to unloading, loading, and pushing back) faster than any other airline, a product of a culture designed with the customer in mind, as well as the bottom line. They delight passengers and they make money, every quarter for the past 40 years! The combination of a high-performance, customer-focused culture in conjunction with a focused business strategy of point-to-point destinations and only one type of aircraft is simple, focused and profitable.
More often than not the difference between a ‘good’ culture and a ‘bad’ culture is visible in where executives spend their time, focus and energies. At the two extremes are internally (process) focused cultures and externally (customer) focused. Southwest is a good example of a customer focused culture. Most other big US airlines are more internally focused, with a myriad of rules and schemes to get more passenger dollars. Even the common phrase in the airline industry, ‘bums on seats’, says a great deal about the culture. Many dysfunctional cultures spend far more time on internal meetings and internal process than on listening to and satisfying the customer.
(this section was taken from my new book – LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, due out on Amazon in paperback form in two weeks)
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress