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I recently facilitated a meeting at which a passionate CEO expressed concern that business culture was slipping. The other participants were GMs under pressure to deliver stretch targets. One asked the question: ‘What do you want, results or culture?’ The CEO replied, ‘Both!’

Culture is regarded as the foundation for sustainable business success by promoting individual, customer and business well-being. Culture is defined as the group behaviour of how things get done. It includes the habits that have developed, determines expectations and expected responses.

The CEO defines the business habits and GMs have the responsibility of ensuring compliance across the business. A performance culture is results driven, which is not necessarily the best or healthiest way to improve performance.   A development culture emphasises building capability, influencing behaviour and focuses on the way people feel.

A recent article by Tony Schwartz issued the challenge of balancing people and organisational needs. (Create a growth culture, not a performance obsessed one – Harvard Business Review, March 2018)

An improvement system is needed to resolve the tensions between culture and performance. Issues include timeframes and measurement. Results are expected within shorter timeframes whilst culture takes longer to change. Performance is easily measured, whilst measuring culture is more difficult and often intangible.

Improvement is driven by a process and culture is systematically strengthened by achieving ongoing small successes. Alignment can therefore occur through planned stages that deliver measureable success on multiple measures.

The solution must support both stability and change. Stability can be achieved by implementing a standardised improvement cycle that delivers set results. The necessary skills and behaviours can then be systematically developed to support new targets. Culture will strengthen through success.

Culture needs to be understood, defined and deliberately managed in a way that supports the business strategy. This includes defining current habits that drive success, identifying the changes needed, creating a tool to track improvements and measuring the impact on results.

The chances of success are increased by designing an integrated system using a single strategic initiative. This will create a model that can be replicated and scaled up to accelerate the alignment over time.

I recently embarked on a journey of designing and implementing a system that integrates performance and culture.

Key learning

  1. Base line information in respect of performance and culture is required at the start of the improvement journey.
  2. Current habits that drive business success must be identified. Changes needed to support the future business strategy must be agreed.
  3. A survey tool is needed to track changes in culture and business improvement throughout the improvement journey.
  4. Focus the change initiative on a single strategic project to simplify complexity and evaluate success on a range of measures.

New systems

  1. Simplify the workflow process and schedule a large number of actions using technology to reduce time pressure and eliminate non-value adding activities.
  2. Use a training and coaching approach that builds skills just-in-time, promotes learning in action, uses short sessions and supports behaviour change.
  3. Provide real time and give feedback that validates the positive link between culture and performance.

Performance cycle

  1. Establish a quarterly improvement cycle that provides a standardised improvement approach and embeds in the work culture
  2. Design 90, 60 and 30 day improvement plans that support the delivery of set improvement targets.
  3. Align the appropriate skills to support the delivery of the set plans and the required behavioural changes
  4. Recognise and reward outstanding contributions that include results, behaviour and contributions.

Conclusion

Building an integrated system that aligns performance and culture presents a significant improvement opportunity.

The best strategy is to take a conservative approach and scale up on the basis of success. There is likely to be resistance to the proposed change, so start off in a supportive environment.

The best results will be delivered where there is a strong imperative to change and recognition that current ways of doing things are inadequate to deliver expected results.

Ensure the supporting systems, processes and enabling tools are developed prior to the launch of any proposed initiative. The outcome will be a totally different and more powerful group dynamic that will be achieved by focusing on the skills and mind sets of all participants