“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
“Cultural fit is more important than technical skills"
You have all heard statements like this before. The importance of culture in business is becoming increasingly more understood, acknowledged, and accepted.
I believe the majority of us would agree that culture is critical to the success of any business or organisation but it does also raise some interesting questions:
1. Why is culture so important?
2. What are some of the pitfalls of focussing on culture alone?, and
3. How do you measure it?
These are all complicated topics in their own right and we will only scratch the surface in this article but it is good to get the conversation going.
Values are what you do when no one is looking
The importance of culture cannot be understated. Culture becomes a reflection of your organisation's values and beliefs. Your values can be described as "what you do when no one is looking ". Your culture becomes a key determining factor in how the world sees your organisation including customers and prospective employees. It will influence what type of people you attract to the business and which people thrive in that environment. Is your culture "win at all cost", "customer centric", "ethically driven", "altruistic", “people focussed"? There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer to that, but it is important to know.
Your culture is your brand
In many respects your culture is your brand and is just as important as all other aspects of your branding and messaging to the world as to who you are and what you stand for.
It is critical that culture, behaviour and actions are consistent with the stated values of the company and that of the leaders in your organisation. When there is a mismatch between these there is then an erosion of trust and messages from senior management start sounding like rhetoric. If you say you are "People First " make sure your decisions and actions match your statements.
One way of understanding the importance of that consistency is to consider what happens when it is not there. A good way to destroy trust and de-motivate your team is to not take action when a team member's behaviour is inconsistent with the culture and values of the team. Inaction will serve as an implicit endorsement that this behaviour is acceptable. That behaviour will then continue or worse still increase and all that see this will be demoralised and start looking for the door.
A challenging question that then arises, if culture is so critical then when can that become a bad thing? The first issue is when the focus on culture comes at the expense of diversity. There is a potential trap here of thinking that cultural fit means just employing only "like-minded" people. Culture should be based on values and beliefs and not based on just having people with common backgrounds. People following this blog would already know the high value I place on diversity of thought and on an inclusive workplace. Be very careful to ensure that the strive for "cultural fit" does not become a blindspot for a lack of diversity and inclusion.
cultural fit should not come at the expense of diversity and inclusion
The second issue can be a lack of accountability. In high performance teams every person has their role to play and all other team members are relying on them. We do need to be careful that we do not diminish accountability and excuse it away because someone is a great "cultural fit".
This brings us to how we can measure culture in our teams and in our leaders. I feel there are many ways this can be done including the use of employee surveys and asking your customers for their views.
A key way to ensure the importance of culture is well ingrained in the organisation is to build it into the ratings of individuals and give it equal footing along side accountability for performance.
For this is to be effective the first step is to ensure that the company's expectations of culture are well understood and people are aware how it will be measured.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sulin Lau of Grab on The Leadership Project Podcast and she graciously shared with us Grab’s approach to measuring culture in their staff.
Grab sets clear guidance for their staff around the culture of the organisation around 4 Hs - Heart; Hunger; Honour; and Humility. They provide team members and team leaders with guidance on what it means to live by these values.
Heart; Hunger; Honour; Humility
This is then backed up and reinforced by the performance management process giving a 50:50 weighting between business outcomes and living by the 4Hs.
This is not the only way to measure culture or leadership but I do indeed like the clarity and focus they have achieved with this approach.
I encourage you all to stop I reflect on these questions:
1. How does your company’s set and measure culture?
2 What actions do you take to reinforce that in your teams?
3. What would you do differently if you were to challenge the status quo?
If you would like to hear more from Sulin Lau; her own personal journey to becoming an inspirational leader; and more on Grab’s approach please catch the 2 part interview on The Leadership Project podcast now.
Stay safe; lookout for each other; and always remember to challenge the status quo.