Many people agree that 1) organizational culture exists and 2) it can either be a great hindrance or an amazing competitive advantage in executing strategy. However, not everyone agrees on the definition of culture.
Here is a concise definition from HR expert Susan Heathfield, that I’d like to share with you:
“Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of-generally unspoken and unwritten-rules for working together.”
While leaders can greatly influence culture, they can’t change the culture on demand, since it is made up of many micro-cultures and represents all of the people in an organization. In their book, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen tell story after story where leaders failed in organizations, because they weren’t attuned to the organizational culture. Rather than working with the culture, they implemented strategies that went against the shared values, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and behaviors held by people in the organization and failed. If you’ve been in the workplace for any length of time, I’m sure you can count several examples of new leaders who had difficulty implementing new strategy precisely because those changes didn’t take the culture into account.
Coffman and Sorensen encourage leaders to: “be active owners of the cultures to which we belong to draw out the best of the cultures’ qualities and align them to our business imperatives.” In order to do this, they challenge all leaders to:
- Ignite the passion in ourselves and our people
- Connect our people to each other, our mission, and purpose
- Revitalize our cultures as a competitive advantage for our organizations
How have you leveraged the best in your organizational culture to execute strategy? And what advice can you give to other leaders who feel hindered by their organizational culture?