Peter Drucker, often considered the inventor and father of modern management stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This saying explains why many people in a formal leadership position are struggling to obtain the results they are looking for. It also explains why so many change programs fail, even when they are supported by a clear and compelling vision.
To realize a vision and obtain desired results, we need to develop certain strategies, objectives, and processes. This is the part most managers are very good at. What is often forgotten, however, is that other road to be followed. Indeed, there’s also the culture of the company, the organization, the division or the team to take into account. Culture is defined by the common values, the individual behavior, and the attitude of the people working in the organization. This is where managers often fail – perhaps because they’re simply unaware of the cultural aspect’s importance, perhaps because they don’t feel comfortable with it or because they don’t have a proper road-map at their disposal.
I’d like to suggest to you a clear road-map, based on 3 simple principles: come out of your office, tell stories and focus on behavior.
First Principle: Management by Wandering Around
‘My door is always open. Whenever you feel the need to address any issue, feel free to come talk to me.’ This is what managers very often enjoin on their employees. Just as often, though, they find themselves surprised that when problems do arise, causing friction on the work-floor or even financial loss, no-one came to them beforehand. Many managers advocate the ‘open door policy’ but they too often see it as a one-way communication. They forget what it’s all about: when the door is always open, people can come in and talk to you, indeed, but you can go out and talk to your employees and team members yourself just as well! Don’t be an “undercover boss”.
Douglas R. Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company and author of the book ‘TouchPoints’, talks about how he implemented this very principle in his own company in an interview with Jon Katzenbach, leadership expert and Senior Partner at Booz & Company.
Second Principle: Corporate Storytelling
Storytelling is a very powerful tool to influence an organization’s culture and its employees’ behavior.
Eric Van Zele, CEO of Barco and elected ‘Manager of the Year 2012’ in Belgium, swears by the storytelling principle. “I am a conceptual with a synthetic mind. Talking to everyone around me, provides me with the answers our organization needs. It’s not that difficult, really – you just need to listen. Focusing on the essentials, I then build up a good story and communicate it. The key to a good story is understandability – everyone should understand your story, be it a Chinese worker, an American engineer or a Belgian HR person “.
The basics of storytelling are summarized very nicely by Sigrid Van Iersel, a Dutch expert in this field:
- The wish: Almost all stories begin with a dream, an ambition or a deep desire to put the story in motion.
- The obstacle: The main character takes action but is confronted with a barrier, an obstacle.
- The solution: In the end, a solution is found and the obstacle is overcome.
- The result: And so …. (Fill in what the result of this solution means for the organization, the team or the employees.)
Not all stories have a permanent solution or a crystal clear happy ending. The ‘result’ may also be an insight gained.
Third Principle: Focus on behavior and attitude
Douglas R. Conant also asserts that “Behavior matters”. Dick Brown, former CEO of Electronic Data Systems Corporation once said: “A company’s culture is really the behavior of its people… leaders get the behavior they tolerate.”
You may find changing someone’s behavior a harsh job – just think of all the times you already tried it with your children, partner, employees, or colleagues. Perhaps, though, you were unsuccessful only because your approach was rather clumsy.
The simple four-step method outlined below will help you putting this third principle into practice.
Step 1: determine very precisely which kinds of behavior contribute to the realization of your
company’s vision. Do so by translating your company’s values into clearly defined behaviors.
Step 2: define which kinds of behavior are counterproductive and unacceptable.
Step 3: set a good example by complying with the defined rules of conduct yourself.
Step 4: consistently reward positive behavior and immediately address unacceptable behavior.
A company’s culture is really the behavior of its people… leaders get the behavior they tolerate.” ~Dick Brown Tweet this
Try it out these three basic principles. You’ll be amazed at how they will contribute to developing the desired organizational culture your reaching for.
What other methods do you use to build a better culture in your organization? Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts and experience.