Take me to your leader – Femi Adebanji

untitledEVERY organisation has some sort of corporate culture, whether or not its conscious of the fact. Yes, it may be difficult to quantify or define, but the culture exists. Not being aware of the nature of the culture that exists within an organisation and the role it plays in facilitating or hindering performance, might not be such a great thing though – simply because, organisational culture greatly impacts workplace behaviour and workplace behaviour drives business performance.

A constant in the life of any organisation is change; and an organisation’s ability to introduce change or cope with unanticipated and disruptive change largely depends on its “cultural health” at the time – strong, performance-oriented corporate cultures deal better with change (disruptive or intentional) and even facilitate the introduction of change with ease and cooperation; weak cultures on the other hand deal poorly with change (good or bad), pose a huge resistance factor and can even sabotage the change process  – something I like to refer to as the “chicken-little effect” – a situation where at the very mention of the word “change”, good or bad, everyone goes into a flat panic! No prizes for guessing how this potentially impacts employee performance and workplace productivity.

So here’s the thing – managing and shaping culture rests largely (if not completely) on the shoulder of the leadership (managers included) that exists within the business. Employees generally take their cues from and the top, and the state of any business culture (strong or weak) is almost always a reflection of what its leadership values and takes seriously, how the leaders themselves behave and conduct themselves,  and what they pay attention to. Through their actions, leaders reflect what is important or unimportant to themselves personally and in so doing, reflect what is important or unimportant to the business!

This in turn influences what the employees take or don’t take seriously, (remember, they’ve got their eyes fixed on you…), which then drives their behaviour and ultimately determines business performance. Now if you’ve got enough people broadly sharing the same sort of value system (good or bad), generally having a similar work ethos, and display a similar attitude towards what they do and how they do it, then congrats, you’ve got yourself a culture!

Consequently, if the leadership is to create a strong business culture that will deliver high-performance, they first need to look within. They need to take an unemotional step back and assess what sort of message they are intentionally or unintentionally sending to the employees, through their own actions and decisions. By way of simple illustration – if managers say all the right things but fail to deliver and aren’t held accountable, employees will read between the lines and may conclude that its all right to talk-the-talk but not necessary to walk-the-walk. If this carries on long enough, the organisation will eventually end up with a lot of people talking a good game but achieving very little – over time, the viability of the business might very well become an issue.

Therefore if an organisation is serious about a culture change intervention, then its leadership must be fully cognisant of the fact that it has a central role to play in creating and shaping a performance culture. The values and behaviours that demonstrate the new high-performance culture must be agreed upon with consensus and clearly outlined, so that nothing is lost in translation (everyone needs to be on-board with this, as this drives up the accountability factor); the organisation’s leadership must also be prepared to invest the requisite amount of time, energy and effort in finding opportunities to display the new values and constantly communicating these new values and making them meaningful to the remainder of the organisation; and finally, employees that demonstrate the behaviours that display the new values need to be recognised openly and quickly via some sort of reward system – this will again demonstrate to everyone else that the organisation is indeed serious  about introducing a high-performance culture. Remember, it’s all about what the leadership takes seriously and pays attention to.

Culture change is possible. It will take time, energy and a concerted effort but in the end, it’s well worth it.

Besides, what choice have you got?

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