When I was younger there was a television advertisement sponsored by the SPCA with the title: A dog is for life, not just for Christmas. It featured a happy family around the Christmas tree playing with a new puppy, a present for the kids, then switched to a lonely, malnourished dog chained up in the backyard, obviously given very little love and attention by the family. I remember crying the first time I watched it.
Everything needs attention and proper care. Plants need watering, fertilizer, pruning and the right climate for health and longevity. Given the proper conditions, some trees grow to be hundreds of years old. And a healthy plant or tree is highly disease resistant. It is in drought conditions that many forests can easily become infested with disease, harmful beetles and caterpillars which multiply and destroy the trees.
A Healthy Corporate Culture is Not Forever
A healthy corporate culture needs attention and nurturing in order to remain fit for purpose.
In the early days of most organisations, leaders pay particular attention to the culture and in many companies the corporate culture is designed to support both the business strategy and employees. And the company grows.
During this growth period, new employees are added, new policies need to be put in place to ensure proper management of limited resources and good governance. But growth and success has its dangers. And in many cases during this period management take their eyes off the culture and focus more on budgets, costs, competition, new products and other issues vital to continued growth.
As a result, the once aligned corporate culture begins to fragment and deteriorate. An influx of new staff, all from different cultures with different work habits dilutes the culture. A common set of values, shared beliefs and work practices are diluted and no longer have the same power to enable business success.
A strong and healthy corporate culture begins to fracture into multiple subcultures, many no longer aligned with the overall company purpose, values and beliefs. This multiplication of subcultures causes internal conflict and “we-they”, “us against them” behaviours tend to dominate the work place. As a result precious management time is spent refereeing and trying to promote teamwork and sharing of information.
Whenever I am called in by a CEO to help with issues of turf-building, poor internal teamwork, loss of speed and agility to adapt to new market conditions, I always look at the level of cohesion in the culture as one of the culprits.
The Care and Feeding of Corporate Culture
Corporate culture needs attention. I believe it is one of the most important jobs of leaders at all levels to manage the culture in alignment with the business strategy. In fact, I preach that culture is a key element of any effective business strategy and there must be culture objectives, initiatives, KPIs and accountable owners.
Culture is not an initiative, it is the enabler of all initiatives.
Here are some key questions every business leader should ask:
- Is corporate culture a key part of our business strategy?
- Do we have a plan for aligning culture with the business strategy?
- Is a healthy culture one of the performance measures of our senior team?
- Do we assess and monitor the health and alignment of your culture on a regular basis?
- Do we define and promote specific work behaviours that align with our culture?
- Do leaders step up and step in when they see behaviour that is out of line with our culture?
Here’s some wisdom on culture from Warren Buffett:
We now employ more than 250,000 people and the chances of that number getting through the day without any bad behavior occurring is nil. But we can have a huge effect in minimizing such activities by jumping on anything immediately when there is the slightest odor of impropriety. Your attitude on such matters, expressed by behavior as well as words, will be the most important factor in how the culture of your business develops. Culture, more than rule books, determines how an organization behaves. ~Warren Buffet
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!