Legions of senior leaders have furrowed their brows and explained that their strategy is sound, their market analysis solid, their product or service near perfect but success remains underwhelming. “Company culture” is holding them back.
With blame assigned to an ambiguous demon, “culture change” becomes a priority. Activity ensues. We have all seen the initiatives — a consultant or coach appears and uses a quadrant matrix to illustrate the health of a company culture; or maybe maps a line graph to highlight the peaks and valleys and eventual success of a change program. Everybody is impressed … and then returns to their daily routines.
Perhaps internal “culture clubs” are created — little swat teams of staff that want to make a difference. They institute “beer Fridays” or monthly lunch & learn sessions or call for flexible hours. But after the beer is drunk, the lunch consumed and the flexibility enjoyed, the status quo remains.
So what do we have? Countless hours of effort and little improvement.
I have a few ideas on this that I will share over the coming weeks. The first is straight forward: Rarely do people have an aligned understanding of what the phrase “company culture” even means. Go ahead and ask some colleagues for a definition and I guarantee you will be greeted by blank stares, stammers and variety of contradictory responses.
It is impossible to change something you can’t define. To change a company culture we first need a shared definition.
The complicated version comes from Investopedia: “Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.”
Hmmm, OK. But given a choice between the complicated and the simple, I always choose the simple. So let’s try something else: “Corporate culture is how shit gets done around here.” That’s it.
And settling on a simple definition is the first step required to change a company culture. Agree on it and then apply it broadly. Now you’ll see what needs adjusting and you can start building a culture that enables rather than disables your strategy.