A business with a strong culture performs better, period.
Yet, through the work I do and throughout my travels across the business world, I’ve noticed that a strong culture can be one of the most mystical things to identify, and certainly, one of the hardest things to deploy.
The reason so many businesses commit so much energy, attention and resources into getting their market strategy correct is obvious, but whilst this is important, it’s only half of the deal.
To have sustained success in a brutally competitive market you must have:
- A strong winning culture and
- A market strategy that delivers on expectation for the customer.
Having a strong culture enables individuals to be at their best. It helps improve team performance and demands our leaders build an environment where people enable each other’s success in executing priorities.
So, why is culture so hard to deploy?
Typically in large organisations, the leader’s circle of influence diminishes as layers of management are introduced to assist with the increasing scale of the business. In contrast, smaller businesses are capable of success where the energy of just a few strong personalities and smart leaders is allowed to flow throughout the business.
More often than not, as businesses scale and introduce layers of management, leadership influence on frontline staff significantly diminishes, which can affect customer service and necessary skill enabling.
As businesses scale, the deployment of culture needs to be recognised via a system or process as the willpower and influence of its leaders is no longer sufficient. Unfortunately, in many organisations this system or process, simply doesn’t exist. Cultural tenets and principles either lack development or are misunderstood. There is also a lack of tools and/or systems supporting these cultural principles and tenets, which reduces their ability to drive behaviour across the organisation.
Broadly speaking, the ability to deploy culture has three key levels:
- Leadership Team
- Middle Management
- Leadership Team
This team needs to be tight. The, typically six to ten, members who exist in this team need to ensure they know each other deeply and have high levels of respect for each other. They must be able to have candid conversations and be able to work with conflict – as a normal part of their day – in pressing hard, as a team, to be at their best. In this environment, respect beats harmony, every time.
At this top level of culture deployment, leaders must be exceptional role models for the values they wish to inspire. Every single member of this team must be “on purpose” in relation to agreed messaging. Furthermore, messaging needs to be consistent and decision making needs to be based on the principles and tenets of the business. To deploy this throughout the organisation, the business must be able to stand up to and be tested by external forces, such as suppliers and customers.
- Middle Management
Culture deployed at the middle manager level is about functional and project team execution. There are a number of cultural deployment drivers at this level, which include:
- Accountability to each other,
- The results teams need to deliver,
- Alignment to the cultural tenets and principles of the organisation (consistently upheld by leaders)
- Communication rhythm and system for team members. This rhythm could include ‘huddles’ to assign accountabilities, ‘check-in’s’ on yesterday’s results, monthly team meetings and quarterly planning meetings.
The third level of the deployment of culture, comes from personal excellence at the frontline. Organisations who want a strong culture, need to invest heavily in the coaching and development of their frontline. Developing their ability to execute their skills, so they can reach a level of mastery within their given roles, is essential.
Individuals must be exposed to coaching designed to help them understand responsibility and manage attitude control in tough competitive environments. The personal responsibility, attitude control and skill of the frontline is directly aligned to the cultural tenets and principles of the organisation and the strategy needed for deployment.
Broadly speaking, a checklist could look like this for your organisation:
- Are your top level and leadership team members modelling the behaviours desired across your organisation?
- Do you have absolute clarity around the principles and tenets you wish to see embedded across the organisation?
- Are decisions made based on your cultural tenets and principles?
- Does your leadership team operate as a tight, succinct unit and have each other’s support? Do they recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses and partake in fierce discussion around each other’s performance?
At the second level, middle management is all about team performance:
- Do both your functional teams and project teams have a clear purpose?
- Do they have an accountability system that measures and aligns to this purpose?
- Do they have a good rhythm of meeting and communication opportunities, including huddles, monthly team meetings and quarterly planning systems?
At the third level, the focus needs to be personal excellence:
- Have you defined the organisation’s commitment and investment to the coaching and development of the frontline?
- Have you ensured sufficient coaching around the deep understanding of responsibility and attitude control for everyone in the organisation?
- Have you invested in leadership training of middle managers so they can build teams of individuals who are bound to the underlying behaviours of the cultural tenets and principles of the organisation?