Recently I was standing in front of about 300 people, introducing a new initiative to redesign their company culture. As I had prepared for the meeting, I thought about the importance our client had been putting on creating an enhanced culture of accountability. Rightly so, he saw his organizational culture tied in to both their current successes and the challenges they faced on a daily basis. He also saw it as a very big lever to fulfill on the company’s future ambitions.
This isn’t uncommon these days, as companies look to leverage the potential of the people and their organizations. But, I can remember a time when it was verboten to even say the word “culture” in a client’s organization. Culture was seen as too ‘soft’ to make a significant contribution to the results our clients were accountable for. So why has culture made a rebirth?
In 2000, when Bayer Biological Products was responding to a FDA warning letter, Jan Turek, then president of the business, wisely pointed out that although processes and procedures were being re-written, the work and adoption of the new processes was going much slower than expected. When he started addressing the culture at the source of their challenges, he noticed a new energy for the work and velocity that wasn’t previously there.
Simply said, I believe culture has made a return to importance because culture trumps process and ambition. For example, how many of us want to live healthier lives and yet don’t? Or know we need to be more organized and don’t take the steps? Or who say we’ll be more bold leaders and aren’t. We know how. We know the benefit and the need, but yet it doesn’t come naturally. Perhaps there is a more profound answer than knowing what to do and why, and culture maybe at the heart of it.
I’d like to invite you to consider that for the most part, the culture that determines so much of the thinking, action and results in our organizations probably wasn’t intentionally designed. It’s likely our cultures just kind of wind up being the way they are, a mixture of unwritten rules on how to succeed and avoid danger. If it’s true that culture can morph into existence, then it’s also likely we can design a culture that gives our businesses a competitive advantage and our people the challenges that call the best from them. That seems like a game worth playing. What do you think?