There has been much news coverage on culture change this week in the wake of the report on Mid Staffs NHS and the LIBOR scandal. I’ve always believed culture is critical to success. So in this blog, here are three personal thoughts.
1. Culture comes from the top. Leaders get the culture they deserve. Whatever culture you want, you, as a leader, have to live and breathe it. Culture is not for other people!
2. Don’t use the excuse that culture takes years to change. Culture can be changed quickly – try a few decisive actions followed up consistently. I have always wanted a culture of openness when things go wrong in an IT function. I remember, soon after I started in a new role a few years ago, we had a major systems outage. An individual came into the room, and said “I think I may have caused this by an error”. My reaction was to thank him for owning up so we could sort the problem and stop it happening again. Of course that was backed up with a “What do we need to do to never let that happen again in the future?!”. If your team is pushing itself to do things differently and better, errors will happen. The trick is to learn from them. Think of 100m sprinters that practice starting on the gun but not before; even the best get it wrong very occasionally.
3. Reward the right behaviour. It sounds obvious but is hard to do. Most people respond better when praised for doing things right, How much time to you spend rewarding people for actions in line with your desired culture. And a reward does not have to be much, sometimes just a thank you in a meeting or in public is all that is needed. Watch how quickly your teams start doing the things you talk about and praise them for.
Herb Kelleher, founder and chairman emeritus of Southwest Airlines was a great leader. Here’s a great quote from him – Culture trumps Strategy. He said “It doesn’t matter what your strategy is if you’re people cannot, will not, or don’t know how to accomplish that strategy”
“Some people will say, ‘Well, this is not a strategy,’ because they like the word ‘strategy.’ You know, it sounds important, like the Strategic Air Command. And I’d say, ‘Well, here’s how I differentiate.’ I think it was Tolstoy, if I remember correctly, who said, ‘How does Napoleon march onto a balcony in France and get a whole bunch of French troops to march into Russia to their death?’ And I said, ‘Well, the strategy involved was his imperial ambitions, right? But what made the troops march? The culture.’ And I said, ‘It’s the troops marching that defines the culture.’”