Friday, 19 July 2013 14:25

How Corporate Culture Drives Results

The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of their organisation is going to blow the competition away.” ~ Walter Wriston, former CEO Citicorp

A New York Times headline April 27, 2011 claims a culture of complicity was tied to Japan’s stricken nuclear plant disaster. NASA’s 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster is another tragic example of what happens when cultural norms fail.  Six months after the shuttle disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, NASA investigators found that “organisational culture and structure had as much to do with the accident as the [shuttle’s damaged] foam.”

In Change the Culture, Change the Game, Tom Smith and Roger Connors write: “Either you manage your culture, or it will manage you.”

In simple terms, culture defines “the shared values, beliefs and behaviours  of people in social groups”  (Worrall, 2009,  A Climate for Change). It  refers to how people think, act and get things done in your company and is comprised of three components:

  1.     Experiences, which foster beliefs
  2.     Beliefs, which influence actions
  3.     Actions, which produce results

Few managers excel at optimising culture. While they’re aware of surveys that reveal two-thirds of employees are disengaged, they don’t know how to break down culture into readily identifiable components. They get lost in emotions, feelings, beliefs, soft skills and fuzzy thinking. Optimising your culture should command as much attention as performance metrics, operations, finances, sales and every other organisational discipline.

Research shows that the right culture champions high levels of performance and ethical behaviour. When organisations design and support a culture that encourages outstanding individual and team contribution, they achieve amazing bottom-line results.

Employee accountability and engagement are the driving forces behind achieving great results. As a manager, it’s your job to help employees see how their participation contributes to your organisation’s success. Employees become engaged when they can describe their role in outcomes and desired results.

How People Experience Work

As a manager or team leader, you create experiences every minute of the day that help shape your organisation’s culture. These experiences include:

  •     Promoting someone
  •     Firing someone
  •     Announcing a new policy
  •     Interacting in meetings
  •     Providing feedback
  •     Communicating through conversation, email or presentations

Such interactions shape beliefs about “how we do things around here.” These beliefs, in turn, drive people’s actions, which collectively produce results.

Achieving True Accountability

Accountability is often viewed as something negative that happens to you when things go wrong. True accountability is achieved through a step-by-step process that makes things go right.

Accountability should not be defined as punishment for mistakes. It’s a powerful, positive and enabling principle that provides a foundation to build both individual and company success.

The way we hold one another accountable defines the nature of our working relationships, how we interact and what we expect from one another. With positive accountability, people embrace their role in facilitating change and take ownership for making progress.

When people adopt a sense of accountability, they recognise that their participation can and will make a big difference. They go the extra mile because they know what to do, and they know how their job and their actions will drive results. This adds energy to their work, as most people crave meaning and fulfillment.

Accountability is the single biggest issue confronting organisations today, especially for those engaged in big change initiatives. When you build a culture of accountability, you have people who can and will achieve game-changing results.

Accountability steps include:

  •     See it: In order to see what needs to be done, you must take responsibility for reality. Because reality frequently changes, you need to stay alert and be flexible. There’s no hiding behind what used to work. When you see something, you must rise to a new challenge. This means obtaining others’ perspectives and candidly asking for and offering feedback. You must be courageous and relentless in your pursuit of acknowledging reality.
  •     Own it: Accept being personally invested in outcomes. Be willing to take risks and learn from successes and failures. Align your work with what the company needs. Link where you are and what you’ve done with where you want to be and what you’re going to do.
  •     Solve it: Obstacles can always get in the way of achieving results, so apply persistent effort. When thwarted, find another way. Keep asking, “What else can I do so this gets resolved?” You must learn to overcome cross-functional boundaries, limitations and “no” responses.
  •     Do it: Focus on top priorities, overcome obstacles, do what you promise to achieve, and avoid blaming others. Work to sustain an environment of trust for all participants, even those who are unwilling to help.

In a culture of accountability, people step forward to become part of the solution—often when they begin to see others doing it. Managers should seise every opportunity to model this behaviour with their own attitudes and actions, which will create a trickle-down effect.

The payoffs for positive accountability are better performance metrics, but perhaps more significant is what people report internally. When people participate more fully in their jobs, they create meaning and fulfillment. Work becomes more pleasurable. And when people start achieving better results, they are most likely rewarded in tangible ways, as well.

When to Change the Culture

Connors and Smith point out that, by definition, your culture produces your results. You cannot expect your current culture to produce new results. It may not be a bad culture; it simply isn’t what’s needed if you want different results.

Shifts in culture are required anytime you want people to think and act in new ways to achieve new outcomes. Most of the time, they don’t involve a total transformation, but rather a transition to new cultural norms.

Remember that cultures are powerful, and persistent, and that people are entrenched in their habits and work routines. If you want to achieve new or different results, you will need to create a new culture. To do so, you must define the needed shifts in the way people think and act so they can create new experiences that will translate into new beliefs and actions.

To accelerate a change in the culture, start by defining the new results you wish to achieve. Everyone in the organisation needs to be focused on and aligned with the desired new outcomes. Culture changes one person at a time.

Your people must believe that new results are obtainable. Only then can they change their thinking and actions.


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