An organisation’s culture can be a source of competitive advantage or a huge obstacle to achieving its goals. The importance of culture really struck me after reading “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? “. In the book Lou Gerstner, the former CEO and Chairman of IBM, reflects on the turnaround he orchestrated during his tenure, as follows.
“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. Vision, strategy, marketing, financial management – any management system, in fact – can set you on the right path and can carry you for a while. But no enterprise – whether in business, government, education, health care, or any area of human endeavor – will succeed over the long haul if those elements aren’t part of its DNA.”
As Gerstner proved, in the turnaround of IBM, that leaders can shape and indeed change an organisation’s culture. The fact that Lou Gerstner could change the culture, of one of the world’s largest organisations should provide hope and inspiration to all leaders.
“…Edgar Schein noted a decade ago: cultures are largely created and modified by the actions of the organisation’s leaders. And here we view leadership in its broadest sense as someone who people take notice of and follow their lead. There are a relatively small set of things leaders do that affect culture:
- What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis
- How leaders react to critical incidents and organisational crises
- How leaders allocate resources
- Deliberate role modelling, teaching, and coaching
- How leaders allocate rewards and status
- How leaders recruit, select, promote, and excommunicate
The short-hand for this list is, ‘How do you get ahead around here?’”
Leaders cannot afford to let an organisation’s culture evolve by accident or by chance.
To become purposeful about shaping an organisation’s culture requires leaders answer the question “what does your organisation’s culture need to look like to be effective?”. The key to shaping an organisation’s culture begins with purpose. Wikipedia defines purpose as “the anticipated aim which guides action.” Leaders wanting to shape an organisations culture must act purposefully, aligning all the above mentioned cultural areas towards the organisation’s purpose.
- Are you acting intentionally to shape your organisation’s culture?
- What are you paying attention to?
- How do you react to critical moments?
- What are you teaching? Why?
- What are you allocating resources to?
- What do you reward?
- Who are you recruiting and promoting?