Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Culture | Alignment at Scale

Two of the most important business precepts I have learned over the years are:

  1. Alignment of teams is critical to success. Without it, the business will fail as it expends resources going in different directions.
  2. Getting people to make the right decisions in the absence of the CEO, especially as the business scales, is critical.

Therefore, it is imperative to have the right leaders (articulate vision and as a corollary, strategy; get buy-in, and formulate incentives*) and then the right culture (defined by leadership and ensuring 'alignment at scale'). And therefore, leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin. Both are required for enduring success.

Arguably one of the best thinkers about organisational culture is Schein, and he nails it here:

"Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of culture as a concept is that it points us to phenomena that are below the surface, that are powerful in their impact but invisible and to a considerable degree unconscious. In that sense, culture is to a group what personality or character is to an individual. We can see the behavior that results, but often we cannot see the forces underneath that cause certain kinds of behavior. Yet, just as our personality and character guide and constrain our behavior, so does culture guide and constrain the behavior of members of a group through the shared norms that are held in that group."

He continues, talking about leadership and culture as inextricably linked:

"neither can really be understood by itself. On the one hand, cultural norms define how a given nation or organizations will define leadership—who will get promoted, who will get the attention of followers. On the other hand, it can be argued that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture; that the unique talent of leaders is their ability to understand and work with culture; and that it is an ultimate act of leadership to destroy culture when it is viewed as dysfunctional."

(*Incentives: by far the hardest thing to do as a leader/manager. Mistakes are: 1. putting money as the prime motivator 2. giving too many objectives for a given review period. In my view, incentives are best when they drive purpose - for both the individual's work and the business. And also, I am a big believer in giving only one business objective each period, so that it stays top of mind, and therefore influences all behaviours. Easier said than done, of course.)

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