5 counterintuitive solutions to boost your culture

| December 3, 2021

I am a massive fan of culture. Over a 30-year career, I have had the privilege to lead large businesses across multiple geographies, industries and segments. Without doubt, cultural excellence has been at the cornerstone of my relative success.

I value it higher than strategic agility and I focus on it with the same rigour and discipline as I do with revenue, earnings, and cash targets. We have a problem though. Great cultures have a curse. They are exceptionally hard to evolve and unless continually stoked, they flounder.

What follows are 5 counterintuitive solutions to ensure this never happens. Disagreement is ok, but curiosity should be mandatory.

  1. Treat cultural pursuit as a science. The days of marketing puffery and endless theory with little substance pertaining to culture have long gone. Whilst once void of statistical evidence, most cultural dimensions now have defined and measurable ROI metrics. Unfortunately, only 12% of organisations use predicative analytics to support key decision making, and most leaders still struggle to prove the link between culture and commercial outcomes. Lead cultural agencies now have swarms of behavioural scientists and it is not uncommon to see econometric statisticians being wheeled out in cultural meetings. Leverage the wealth of available data, track cultural indicators (leading and lagging) within your monthly meetings, and critically, hold yourself and teams accountable for success.
  2. Don’t please the masses. The beauty of culture is that those who are leading an organisation get to decide on what it looks like. Environments, artefacts, people and processes all constitute organisational culture. When a company’s valuesmirror that of an employees, exceptional engagement and results will follow. When opposing value sets collide, corporate and personal pain normally dictate. When you try to create a culture that appeals to everyone, seldom will it be defining. Create a culture that is 100% right for your organisational and for your desired strategic direction. Those who resonate, will partner and thrive accordingly.
  3. Avoid cultural contentment. Familiarity breeds contempt. We get used to things being as they are, and this can lead to a sense of entitlement. A culture of entitlement can be a dangerous place for both an individual and for a business. What was once seen as unique and valued, is now viewed as business as usual. When one is content with culture, the pressure valves are released and inertia invariably follows. Exceptional leaders despise inertia. They look at their current culture with constant dissatisfaction. Even when things are going well, they are seeking next step improvement – enhanced attitudes, behaviours and processes. All with the aim of creating a better tomorrow, today. 
  1. Prepare for the dark side.Nowadays, it is common practice to read about corporate misconduct. Every day we see examples of financial mismanagement, sexual harassment, safety breaches, renumeration fraud, discriminatory behaviours and competitive breaches to name but a few. It is not unique to regions, countries or industry sectors. At the crux of the matter is always one thing. Culture. Outstanding corporations are those who monitor early for potential signs of cultural undoing and resulting corporate misconduct. They worry about an inadequate investment in people, a lack of ownership and accountability, limited diversity and inclusion, poor senior leadership behaviour, extreme pressure environments and unclear ethical standards. Every leader and director with a conscience or an aversion to jail time should be aware of these alarm bells!
  1. Stop with the constant OD changes. Average managers believe that organisational design changes will address performance issues. They can generally be done quickly and portray a sense of action orientation. The vast majority of them fail and fail, spectacularly. They are distracting and seldom effective. Furthermore, they are often continuous – one after another, creating uncertainty and a perception that leadership has absolutely no clue on how to lead the business. Bypass these org revamps and focus on creating an exceptional culture. It takes a little longer, but unquestionably, the impact is more profound.

Like many, my expectations for cultural leaders are longer than those listed above. They are demanding, challenging and I believe, stretching. Importantly, they are considerably shorter than those that I set for myself. I hope this never changes.


How does your business foster positive leadership?

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