A Healthy Culture is Not Forever . . .

christmas puppychained dog

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.

unalignedAs 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,referee 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.

culture fragmentation

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

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!





About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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