Are you a leader managed by the culture?
Part of the ASPIRE Talent Management series
In previous articles we have been through the key elements which make up the Talent Management lifecycle of ASPIRE: Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement, Retention and Engagement. We are now exploring some of the key aspects which support these elements, and will go into further detail on these topics. Having introduced the subject of the 3V’s in our last article, this article looks further at how you can design and shape the culture you want for your organisation.
Not only have you got alignment with 3V’s you have the means to shape the culture by measuring and developing behavioural competencies
We’ll explore behavioural competencies in detail in a future video, but what we mean by this is a framework of behaviours which you want to measure against something like culture.
Edgar Schein, who we talked a bit about in our previous article, is an MIT professor who dedicated a lot of his work and research to organisational culture, and he is one of the leading academics on this topic. A great quote of his reads:
“The bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the culture in which they are embedded, these cultures will manage them.”
As a leader this statement leads to an interesting question – are you a leader who is managed by the culture, or are you a leader who is managing that culture? It’s important to think about culture consciously. Do you have the culture that you want in place? If not, how are you going to go about developing and changing that? As Schein says ‘Cultures are deep seated, pervasive and complex’. It can be hard to change a culture which is embedded into an organisation, and it can be hard to even know where to start, which is why sometimes it might feel easier just to float around in the culture in which you arrive into, rather than look to drive change. However – if the culture is not working for you, then change is what is needed! It’s key then to work on starting to understand some of the core concepts around organisational culture before you can look at how you can make those changes.
Where do you start?
We’ve referred to Schein’s iteration of the well-known iceberg model previously and we’re coming back to it again in this article as it’s a really good metaphor for describing organisational culture.
Artefacts are what sit on the surface of an organisation. If you walk into a business there will be visible symbols of the organisations culture. A classic example is an organisation where employees wear branded workwear. This may be an outwardly recognisable symbol of that specific business such as a logo or brand, and while employees may understand the need for, but don’t always understand the subtleties and significance of corporate branding.
As we start to move beneath the surface, this is where we see the subtleties start to come into play. Many organisations will have some conscious strategies, displayed goals, philosophies and standards of what they are aiming to achieve. These may or may not be visible. An MD may have sight of these but has not communicated out to his team and the wider workforce. There may be corporate posters, or brochures around the place containing this information, but the understanding and buy-in to these may still be at a very superficial level. These are espoused values, or the corporate values and morals important to an organisation, the values or behaviours which the organisation has adopted to guide its people in how it aspires to conduct it’s business.
In many organisations you will find the artefacts and the espoused values. However, it is the core essence of culture, what is called the underlying assumptions, which is essential for a leader to understand if they want to lead and to impact culture. These are an organisation’s intrinsic values, beliefs, attitudes and behavioural blueprint which truly drive the culture in a business. It’s here we need to look if we need to change the culture. Once you have these in place, this can then be cascaded through the organisation and really drive buy-in through the whole workforce.
Now you know where to start, how do you go about it?
In a previous article we introduced the 3V’s model we use to help leaders create alignment for their teams with business and goals. If you align your behavioural framework to the organisation’s values & culture, you can then start to measure, and also not only cascade these throughout the business but get also genuine buy-in from your people so they then start to demonstrate those behaviours on a day to day basis. The 3V’s starts to give you the chance to shape the culture that you are looking for, and a way to transition from your current culture to the one you want. As we’ve said before, if your vision and values are not serving you well and are not aligned to your business objectives and goals and are taking you in a different direction, you will need to look at creating and implementing a new set.
As a quick reminder the 3V’s are:
Vision: your organisation’s vision statement, or company story, which outlines where you are going for a minimum of 3-5 years. It is the line of sight for your employees and should be short, easy to remember, emotionally engaging and inclusive.
Values: something which is important to your organisation. Identify some of those values and the underlying behaviours that will support those values. The key thing is to focus on your definition of that word and what it means to your organisation.
The vision can be thought of in terms of the ‘where you are going’, and the values the behaviours is the ‘how you’re going to get there’.
Visual Representation: Once you’ve got your vision and values, it’s really helpful to come up with a visual representation of this which helps to cascade and communicate the vision and the values right through your organisation. As we know, a picture paints a thousand words.
It’s really important that you have these 3V’s defined in your business, because it creates the ultimate purpose for your organisation over that period of time, it’s what you’re striving to achieve and it gives you the overview of where you are going and how you are going to get there. Changing culture can be really tough and the 3V’s can give you a structured approach to help you do this.
So once you’ve worked through your 3V’s with your leadership team (remember to define this team very carefully and clearly – see previous article), and these have helped to develop the underlying assumptions you want for your organisation, you will then want to look at how you can link culture with organisation progress, performance and results.
Preserve the core and stimulate progress
The following model is adapted from the ‘Preserve the core/ stimulate progress’ concept from a book by Jim Collins called ‘Good to Great’ – an excellent book to read if you’re interested management and leadership. The concept was originally developed in ‘Built to Last’
As you can see, it’s based around the Yin-Yang symbol, which is a sign of balance in the Taoism religion and explains the philosophy that one element cannot exist without its seemingly opposing counterpart.
The core is your vision and your values. It’s your north star, your guiding light and your line of sight for your employees. What you are looking to do is to preserve that core which will then enable you to start thinking about how you can stimulate progress. This is an element that should be fixed as we’ve mentioned above.
Progress can be achieved through your strategic priorities and action plans. These are the flexible elements, because as we all know, things do change. The environment changes, priorities shift and action plans need to be adaptable to suit.
The link between the two elements, the core and progress, is your culture.
You’ll no doubt have experienced it yourself, and we’ve certainly seen it, where an organisation will try to stimulate lots of progress but within a culture which is just not going to embrace it, which results in friction and clashes. However, if you have a culture which is built around your vision and your values, and a workforce which are engaged within your culture and your business, it is going to be much easier to encourage and stimulate progress which can then in turn drive the performance and results you want from the business.
Again, as Schein says: “An organisation culture consists of values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that employees SHARE and USE on a daily basis in their work.”
The culture that exists within an organisation can be very apparent from the moment you walk through the door and come in to contact with its employees. They will talk about their organisation or about their supervisors, managers or leaders in a particular way. Listening to the conversations around the kitchen kettle, watercooler, on the factory floor or in the office will tell you a lot about the culture which is embedded. Because no matter what culture you might want to develop, it is people’s perception of that culture that will be projected. It may be an inherited culture, a legacy from previous regimes but as the old saying goes ‘you get what you tolerate’ – and if the culture is not serving you well and you want to change it, that is why the cascade and communication of your desired vision, values, expected behaviours and attitudes is critical to enable you to succeed.
This needs to be done in a well thought out way to engage everyone across all levels of the organisation to make sure there is a clear and consistent message to support buy-in and alignment. 3V’s is your core and provides your people with the ultimate purpose of the business. It is what will help you to create the new identity you are looking for with your organisation.
“Cultural understanding is essential if leaders are to lead”
It is clear that the subject of organisational culture development and change is complex and it can be tempting to steer away from addressing it but it can be done. If not, then you risk becoming the leader who is managed by the culture, rather than the leader who manages the culture.
Our top 3 recommendations to help you on this journey would be:
1. Be a leader who shapes the culture
2. Make sure you’ve got your core – your 3V’s- in place and make sure that you communicate it consistently and frequently. Get each individuals buy-in.
3. Use your vision and values to measure your culture. We have way in which we do this by using a framework to objectively measure behavourial competencies aligned to your core values. You can find out more here if you’re interested. Otherwise, we would recommend you do this via your performance management appraisal process, by implementing 360 feedback, using anonymous surveys, and employee engagement surveys and tools. Observations can tell you a lot and give you a sense of what your culture is. Listen to new people who come into your organisation – what do they tell you? Ask questions, reflect on attitudes, perceptions, and feelings on day to day basis. Look at your results; if you are not getting the results needed then there will be reasons for that. Are you heading in the right direction – have you the right culture for the performance you’re looking for. Trailing KPI’s can show you this. The phrase ‘what gets measured gets done’ which usually applies to process and productivity can also apply to people as well.
If you’ve been reading our previous articles you may notice there is a common theme running through and which comes out every time: people. In every topic we talk about it is people that we come back to every time – it is people & talent which will help you grow your business.
This wheel provides a reminder of those 4 key elements of ASPIRE: Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement, Retention and Engagement, which covers the full talent management cycle.
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Peak Performance Partnership Ltd (3P) is a Business Performance Consultancy specialising in Talent Management. ASPIRE by 3P is our talent management solution which supports the talent life cycle of Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement and Retention & Engagement.
Co-authored by Lindsay McGhie, Trevor Norman and Michelle Manning