Blog: How culture helps in aligning strategies at work

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How culture helps in aligning strategies at work

Often culture in an organization is assumed to be what people can see externally, however culture runs much deeper.
How culture helps in aligning strategies at work

The new CEO has set for herself and her Executive Committee an ambitious plan to grow the revenues 10 times in the next 10 years (“10 to 10”). 

The firm consists of a small group of employees who work together as family as a majority of them have been with the firm since its inception. It was the sheer joy of building the organization and growing with it which has been the key driver for the employees till date. The firm was definitely profitable but the scale was small and the pace of growth steady. The new “10 to 10 Strategy” is ambitious and it calls for agile decision making, considerable risk taking and the need to be constantly innovating. The question in CEO’s mind is: How do I change the culture of this place so that it is aligned to the Strategy?

Well, the above narrative is fictitious but the issue is real! Many of the CEOs are grappling or have grappled with the same question. This simple question, however, does not have a very simple answer. 

What is Culture?

Often culture in an organization is assumed to be what people can see externally, however culture runs much deeper. Edgar Schein of Sloan School of management has helped classify the culture into 3 parts:

Artifacts are elements which can be seen, heard or felt by all individuals. These are things like office design, layouts, dress code and facilities in the organization. 

Espoused values are the organization’s stated values, norms, and rules. It is often expressed to external world in terms of vision, mission statements and philosophies. 

Underlying beliefs: They are the beliefs and behaviors so deeply embedded that they can sometimes go unnoticed and are often unconscious. 

It is these underlying beliefs which are the foundation of organizational culture. If you change the artifacts or espoused values without changing the underlying belief then the overall process of culture change will not be successful. 

The aggressive growth plan requires us to be “Agile”, “Ambitious” and “Disruptive”. As the CHRO I have been working very closely with our Management Committee to create a culture of “Collaboration”, “Innovation” and “High Performance “. One of the key tenants of the culture change journey for us has been the “Vision and Culture Journey”. These are essentially OD interventions structured as workshops for the leadership teams in order to bring the best out in a leadership team, enhance collaboration and build trust.  

As defined by Edgar Schein, it was important for us to work on beliefs and assumptions and clarify them so that all of us are clear on the ways of working and expectations from each other.

This is one of the very powerful tools which can be used on Organization change. Like any OD process, the most important aspect of this intervention is diagnostic. There is really no One size fits all approach, a lot will depend on the themes emerging from the diagnostic we conduct. Post which, the pillars of this leadership intervention will be as follows

  • Create a shared vision and purpose: Communicate the strategy and the overall vision and purpose. Ensure that ways of working and expectations are clarified and any underlying assumptions and beliefs are brought forth. Ensure clear communication across all levels through all available communication channels (formal as well as informal).
  • Focus on critical behavior shifts: It is important to identify key behaviors which employees across levels need to display and find ways to reinforce the same. At GPL we encourage employees to present any idea of positive disruption which they feel can be “innovative”. We also empower them to execute the same in their areas of work and in this way we are promoting the culture of “innovation” within our workforce.
  • Institutionalize change: Build formal and informal interventions to institutionalize the change and help drive the right behaviors. Processes like performance management, rewards and recognition need to be structured to ensure the right culture change. 
  • Measure change: Organisations have to build mechanisms to measure how these shifts are manifesting in behaviors, these are through feedback, Culture audits, and dipstick, surveys, and leadership listening.

Every culture change journey takes time to show visible results and we are also learning as we go. Personally, this is an exciting phase of our growth journey and it has given me immense learnings and joy to be a part of this transformation. 

If you have been a part of a transformation journey in your organization, I will be very happy to know more about your experiences.

Topics: Culture

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