Culture is a choice

October 2016

By Nicholas Barnett, CEO Insync

Culture is a choice

This may seem like an outrageous statement to some people but as far as I'm concerned it's absolutely true.

And it's boards, through the CEO, that need to take full responsibility for an organisation's culture and how it is shaped, formed and adapted - and where necessary transformed!

Boards can do this by:

  1. choosing the right CEO that already has the habits and values that embody the type and style of organisation they want; and
  2. ensuring the CEO and executive team are explicit about the values and behaviours they think are essential for the successful implementation of their organisation's strategy - and ensuring those values are well embedded and brought to life.

My book, 7 Business Habits That Drive High Performance, dedicates a chapter that is a call to action for CEOs. It says that if you're concerned about your organisation's culture, take a good look at your own habits as those habits and values have a significant effect upon what the organisation values and how your employees behave.

What you do and fail to do as CEO has a massive impact on what your direct reports and those many levels down consider to be acceptable and unacceptable. Everyone is watching you like a hawk - whether you like it or whether you know it or not. Just ask any employee at a large organisation to describe the attributes of their new CEO. You'll be amazed how fast news travels, particularly in the early days of the tenure of a new CEO - sometimes even before the new CEO has started.

On the second point, I continue to be amazed by organisations that have signed off on a set of organisational values, many of which are very generic or almost irrelevant to the execution of the organisation's strategy. Many of those same organisations continue to induct new employees into their organisation using those out of date and in many cases irrelevant values, but then marginalise those values by communicating and emphasising other values that they think are critical to the execution of their strategy such as innovation, accountability or collaboration. Is there any wonder why employees become totally confused as to what is really important?

There are also companies that think they can embed certain values and form and shape their culture that is contrary to their stated values.

Boards need to ensure that their CEO and executive team think long and hard about their organisation's vision, purpose and strategy and think about the values and behaviours that will be necessary if that vision, purpose and strategy is to be delivered successfully. What values and behaviours will turbo-charge that strategy? What values and behaviours will act as a hand brake on the successful execution of that strategy?

Once you've determined that, ensure your stated values are the right values and if not, refresh your values. You then need to work hard to embed them - to ensure they're lived every day and become your organisation's way of life.

In summary, be intentional about the culture you want to form and shape in your organisation. Being intentional includes engaging your employees in the process and taking the time to undertake the process well.

For more information about embedding your organisation's values, Nicholas' first book GPS for your Organisation: how to energise your employees and build sustainable high performance, has several chapters that explain how to do this.

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