The real work of transformational leadership and the key to sustaining breakthrough performance lie in transforming your organization’s culture.

What elements make up a culture, and what access do you have to transforming this valuable asset?

The culture of an enterprise is comprised of many interactions happening repeatedly each and every day.

This multitude of conversations, activities, exchanges of information, habitual practices, attitudes and beliefs weave together and form a network that powerfully impacts what is possible.

Culture impacts your work, much the same way that background music, service, food quality, décor, and acoustics do when you go to a restaurant. These various elements can influence your experience powerfully—making it particularly pleasing, simply ok or unsatisfying.

Management guru and pioneer in transformational leadership, Peter Drucker, once said, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” His statement is key to transforming a culture.

But how does this translate into action on a practical level?

  • First, it means that whenever you begin to implement a new strategy without an awareness of the culture, into which it is being implemented, the current culture will drown out the new conversation. (Much like loud music, bad service or food does in a restaurant.)
  • Secondly, if you don’t weave the new strategy throughout the culture, you end up with a new stated strategy inside an old culture that is actually shaping the activities in old ways. There will then be lip service to the new strategy while actions are from the old.

Sometimes this old culture is even actively at odds with the new stated strategy, as was the case at GM with their ignition switch failures.

  • GM’s stated strategy was to produce high quality and safe, reliable automobiles. Yet they ended up with the opposite—loss of life, accidents, and recalls.
  • An extensive investigation revealed not a singular cause, but indicated a culture that actively reinforced a lack of responsibility, while fostering finger pointing and a lack of accountability for safety issues.

Conversely, where transformational leadership has succeeded, culture and strategy are woven together and the new strategy is alive and palpable.

This has been the case with such giants as Google, Apple, and recently with sportswear company, Under-Armour. In these companies not only is there a culture of accountability, but also one of innovation and extraordinary performance.

The first action in undertaking the transformation of a culture is to reveal what that culture is now.

This is often most effectively done with the support of skilled and objective outside eyes, ones that are not already influenced by the current culture. It takes diligent work to listen impartially, then to hear, and distinguish the various interactions and elements.

Those dynamics revealed as inconsistent with the new strategy can then be released or re-honed, and ultimately meshed thoroughly with the new. This way they’re not “eaten up” by the old culture.

What organizations are you aware of where the strategy and vision are embodied fully in the actions and interactions of the company?

How harmonious is the culture of your organization with its stated strategy?

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