Culture is the problem: Culture is the solution

July 6th, 2017

The role of the Leader

Results! Results!! Results!!!

That is the mantra for many organisations now.

Leaders are measured by their ability to take high-level goals and translate them into results through their workforce. Boards demand it from their Chief Executives, Chief Executives demand it from their Managers, Managers demand it from their Team Leaders and Members, and Team Members demand it from one another. It is therefore, a foregone conclusion that stakeholders expect, desire and demand that organizations perform.

The concept of performance and result orientation is now at least a well-accepted chant across the society. What seems to be a more difficult concept is actually the development of a culture of discipline and high performance.


Culture is the Solution

In twenty-two (22) interviews with CEOs in 2014, it was interesting to note that the only thing on their minds was how to drive organizational performance. They all mentioned “Culture” as the problem, and in every case “Culture” was the Solution.

According to a research carried out by Professor James Heskett, organisational culture strongly correlates with organisational performance – a weak culture results in a lack of focus and low motivation, and a strong one can increase the revenue of an organisation by up to 765%.

In the landmark well-researched book by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, on the Laws of Performance, the authors explain that rewriting the culture is the key to rewriting the future for people and organizations. The result is the transformation of a situation leading to a dramatic elevation in performance. Rewrite the future and people’s actions naturally shift: from disengaged to proactive, from resigned to inspired, from frustrated to innovative.

Whose Job?

Rewriting an organization’s future is the task of the leader and it cannot be delegated. Sometimes a CEO pays a consulting firm to build an expensive performance management system while they attend to “more important things”. Sometimes executives delegate the need to change the culture of non-performance to the HR Department. These stakeholders are essential, but without Executive Level sponsorship and modelling, the culture will not and cannot change.

To implement an effective cultural change, leaders should:

  1. Drive Transformational Institutionalisation

Organizational leaders must drive the institution of transformational new experiences, beliefs and actions about how things will be done, what will be celebrated and what will be sanctioned. Leaders that change their culture take their people on a journey. If you cannot carry people along, the culture will not change. For example, if a leader says efficiency is crucial to his strategic agenda, people across the organization must experience efficiency from the Executive Office to front lines of the business. If the executive says service excellence is a top priority, that belief must be translated into executive actions that support, celebrate, reinforce and reward all behaviours across the organization that deliver service excellence to all stakeholders. However, if the executive does not have time for monthly performance reviews; or if weekly meetings are not designed to measure progress on the strategic goals; or strategy is reviewed once a year instead of quarterly to allow the organization to adjust to changing realities before it’s too late; or if the leader doesn’t insist on realism and allow teams confront brutal facts at meetings, wrong behaviours are rewarded and the culture will not change.

  1. Lead Discipline of Execution

Organizational leaders must lead the Discipline of Execution. Leaders must insist that their organization and team focus on The Wildly Important Goals. Based on the Principle of Criticality, “There are 2 or 3 Wildly Important Goals that Drive Any Successful Outcome”. Once the Wildly Important Goals are defined, they must be understood. Sometimes leaders confuse strategic articulation with strategic clarity. The fact that employees know what the strategy does not mean that they understand their role in the execution of the strategy. In order to help members of the team and organization perform, the leader must establish a Cadence of Accountability – where everyone knows exactly what part of the plan they are responsible for, how their contributions will be measured and when it will be measured. A cadence of accountability comes from cascading the Wildly Important Goals and using it for compelling scorecards at all levels within the organization. Each individual, each team and each Manager must own a compelling scoreboard.

  1. Lead Measurement Administration

Organizational leaders must lead Measurement Administration. While HR or the Strategy Department may manage the Performance Management System, leaders must drive the process of determining what to measure. Visionary leaders tend to lead with leading measures (indicators of the future performance). Effective managers tend to manage lagging measures (indicators of past performance). Great organizational leaders do both. For example, a leader may measure revenue generation as a measure of past performance and insist on measuring market development and operational efficiency as a measure of future performance. Organizations pay attention to what their leaders are measuring, monitoring and tracking. So as Peter Drucker put it, “What cannot be measured, cannot be managed” and “What you measure, your people will focus on.”

  1. Mobilise Leadership Potential

Lastly, organizational leaders must mobilize leadership potential through instructing, mentoring, coaching and counselling. The development of leaders under the major leader creates a leadership pipeline that ensures the culture the leader is building becomes sustainable, enduring and robust.

The role of the leader in defining culture cannot be delegated. As a leader, you must insist that the performance management system achieves “transformation”, “creates the discipline of execution” and allows him or her to “lead measurement administration”.