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Revamping your Culture

By May 27, 2024Articles

by Bard Papegaaij

If “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, according to Peter Drucker, what can we do to stop this? Can we somehow turn culture into something that doesn’t just leave our strategy intact, but actually supports and reinforces it?

The good news is that you can, indeed, positively influence your culture and steer it in a direction that is more compatible with your vision, mission and strategy. It won’t always be easy or straightforward. It does require awareness, alertness, and skill. But, when done well, you will find that a revamped culture doesn’t just not eat your strategy, it will amplify and strengthen it, and serve it up as an appetising banquet for everyone in your organisation.

Cultures evolve around the successes of its members. To put it simply: rules and behaviours that lead to success are kept, embedded and passed on; rules and behaviours that do the opposite are turned into prohibitions, inhibitions and taboos.

There is not much point in trying to change any of a culture’s rules and behaviours if the collective beliefs about what success looks like stay the same. People may try to follow the rules and behaviours their management dictates, but they will judge the usefulness of those dictates by the success-criteria embedded in the corporate culture. If the dictates don’t align with the internalised success-criteria of the culture, the cultural rules win.

Steering a culture into a new direction, therefore, starts with creating a new sense of purpose and direction to be shared and collectively owned by everyone in the organisation. We recommend making this a collective, co-creative process. The more people from across the organisation that feel they are involved, consulted and heard, the more likely they are to be willing to adopt this new sense of purpose.

Even the strongest and most compelling corporate purpose needs to be translated into concrete success criteria, rules and behaviours to drive a visible change of culture. A purpose statement alone is too abstract and open for interpretation. A good way to make a purpose statement more concrete is to add a mission statement, corporate values, and OKRs to the shared story.

The mission statement outlines in more detail how the organisation sees itself achieving its purpose. Values clarify which behaviours should be valued and which behaviours are disapproved of. Since cultures only change when their success-criteria change, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a powerful tool to help people change the way they evaluate the successes and failures of their actions.

A culture hasn’t properly changed until its people have truly internalised the new beliefs, rules and behaviours. This doesn’t happen overnight. Behaviours have to be practiced over a longer period of time to turn into new habits. The last step in preparing your organisation for the culture change journey is listing the behaviours you deem most important for the culture you are aiming for. This gives your people a guiding framework for what to practice together.

To change your organisation’s culture successfully requires clear, committed and masterful leadership. This leadership is different from the kind of leadership and management needed when things are stable and running according to plan. Most organisations struggle with providing the right level of change leadership because the people expected to lead have not been given enough time and support to practice those much-needed leadership skills and behaviours.

For this reason, we strongly recommend setting up an environment for your leaders and managers that guides and supports them in their personal and professional development. This environment helps leaders improve their effectiveness as leaders by giving them goals (both personal and leadership team goals) to work on, timelines to pace their practices, and commitments to keep them focused. Each leadership skill or behaviour is then practiced in a cycle of sprints, with progress being measured and evaluated using VIPs (Visible Indicators of Progress). VIPs can be seen as the personal version of OKRs: they define the visible difference the practice is meant to make on the effectiveness of the leaders, and provide a way to keep track of progress, even when the desired end state hasn’t been reached.

Change leadership requires many different skills, as well as the ability to bring those skills together as a team.

The following are core skills for change leaders.

  • Emotional Intelligence:
    • knowing one’s own emotions;
    • understanding emotions in others;
    • the ability to manage one’s own emotions;
    • the ability to deal effectively with emotions of other.
  • Influencing Skills:
    • The ability to influence actions and decisions of relevant stakeholders across the organisation;
  • Leadership Styles:
    • Understanding the various types of leadership and how to use them effectively;
  • Team Dynamics:
    • Understanding the way people work in teams, the forces that further or hinder team productivity and effectiveness, and how to positively influence and lead teams to high-performance;
  • High-Performing Teams:
    • Understanding what separates average teams from high-performing ones, and knowing how to bring together and lead high-performing teams;
  • Dealing with Change:
    • Understanding how change affects people, where change resistance comes from, and knowing how turn change resistance into a positive force for change.

There may be other skills required as well, depending on the situation, but these skills combined form a solid foundation for high-impact, effective leadership. In a high-performing leadership team, not everybody needs to have the full range of skills fully developed, as long as the team knows how to combine the skills they collectively bring to the table.

About the Author

Bard Papegaaij (Amsterdam, 1960) is a philosopher, writer, trainer and coach with a deep compassion for human suffering and the determination to help people live a better life, find more satisfaction in their work, and work together to create a more sustainable and social society. Bard lived in Australia for almost 25 years. The COVID pandemic left Bard and his wife Paulina stuck in the Netherlands, where they made a virtue of necessity. They have now settled permanently in the country’s north, where Bard writes books and guides people in their personal and professional development.

You can find Bard’s books on Amazon here and his latest Dutch language book here.

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