By Roger Conners and Tom Smith, authors of three NY Times bestselling leadership books
When it comes to optimizing organizational performance, here’s our core belief: “Either you will manage your culture, or it will manage you.” Every company has an organizational culture that is working full time sending cues to people on how to think and act in that organization. Culture never takes a holiday or vacation; never calls in sick; never comes in late. It’s always working, whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not. The question isn’t, do we have a culture? The question is, does our current organizational culture supercharge our efforts to achieve the results our stakeholders hold us accountable to get? Is our culture helping or hindering?
The results you currently get are produced by your current culture. You build your culture around the results you need to achieve. If a key result is growth, then there are certain workplace beliefs you need people to hold about what is important, how to get work done, how to resolve conflicting priorities, etc. Those beliefs are what we call Cultural Beliefs and should be well defined and fostered. A Cultural Belief is a belief you need people to hold that is prioritized as being essential to how people need to think and act in the desired culture in order to achieve the desired results.
When it comes to clearly defining the results around which the culture should be based, many leaders get a failing grade. In our research, a surprising 9 out of 10 leadership teams cannot give a consistently aligned answer among team members as to the top three key results they need to achieve. They always have a general idea, but are unable to provide the details. A clear definition of results, one that everyone throughout the entire organization can understand and repeat, is essential to creating an organizational culture that will produce those results.
Getting Clear On Results
In a leadership workshop, we asked the European management team of a large pharma company what the top result was that they needed to achieve. They told us it was “BUC,” which stood for business unit contribution. We asked the team, “What’s the number?” Everyone went silent. No one wanted to answer. We asked each person to write down the number on a piece of paper and pass it to the CFO in the back of the room. As it turned out, there was a $300 million variance between the high number and the low number.
Why don’t leaders get clear about their key results with their organizations? We think leaders sometimes make a lot of assumptions that it should be obvious, when in fact, it is not.
Build Your Culture Around Your Desired Results
As the results an organization needs to achieve become more aggressive or more difficult, leaders must ask themselves — since our culture produces our results, will this shift in results also require a shift in our culture? If the results you need to achieve will be an order of magnitude more difficult than in the past, if they will require a deployment or redeployment of resources or people, if they signal a significant change in direction, or if processes, systems, skills, or structure must change significantly to achieve them, then a shift in culture and clarity around the needed Cultural Beliefs is not optional. Unfortunately, we often see culture as the last place managers and leaders go to work, usually when everything else is not working. Instead, it ought to be the first place leaders work to ensure results. Culture produces results.
About The Authors
Roger Connors and Tom Smith are authors of three NY Times bestselling leadership books, including Change the Culture, Change the Game, and are co-CEOs and co-presidents of Partners In Leadership.