The saying ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ is repeated so often now, it has become quite an iconic statement, summing up much of what ails todays organisations.
Those words were apparently said by Peter Drucker in reference to why so much company strategy fails – his thinking is that it's not necessarily because the strategy is bad, it’s just that the organisation can't get its act together to make the strategy happen. Sound familiar? You only have to work for a few organisations in your career to realise how many are often their own worst enemy when it comes to getting the important stuff done.
The right culture (as opposed to a good culture) has always been critical to an organisations performance – anywhere from being able to turn an entire industry on it’s head, to adding that extra 5-10% performance improvement that makes all the difference to bottom line profit and stakeholder satisfaction. But today, as we face a commercial world where disruption and constant change are the norm, culture will be what defines whether an organisation not just thrives but also survives! Whether that culture needs to build a greater customer focus, drive product and service innovation or drive greater business efficiency, it is the one thing that will ensure strategy comes to life.
Most senior leaders, now recognise that creating the right culture for their organisation is essential to getting the important stuff done, and out-performing others. But what many don’t know is HOW to build the right culture. The question we commonly get is “I know our culture is working against us but how do we fix that?”
A lot of articles and advisors will tell you that culture is critical, but can’t begin to tell you what actually needs to be done to create that culture. One thing for sure is, you just can’t tell people what you want the culture to look like and expect them to quickly move there. Years of behavioural psychology research, and a long road of corporate failures, will tell you that approach just doesn’t work. We must never forget we are dealing with humans, and all their idiosyncracies, when it comes to shaping culture.
As we’ve often said at ON-Brand Partners , “the problem is not in the thinking, but in the doing”. So HOW do you put in place things that are going to shift that culture towards what it needs to be. After all, culture can often feel so intangible, so hard to define and therefore hard to actively manage, that a concrete plan to change it can seem elusive.
This is where ON-Brand Partners succeeds. With our integrated platform for change, you have a powerful and proven approach to changing your culture to one that supports (and energises) your strategy rather than eating it. And you may be surprised to know it’s all about changing the type, structure and nature of conversations happening in your workplace - our extensive experience across industries has proven that ‘transformation happens in the conversation’ and from there, the right culture will emerge.
As the CEO of one of our major clients said “what I’ve learned through all of this is that if you want to shift your company’s culture, you need to change the conversation throughout the organisation”.
We’d welcome you to give us a call to talk through what we do, and how we’ve helped others to successfully focus their conversations, to build the ‘right’ culture that can tackle a fast paced, disruptive world - head on! Because only when you change the conversation can you change the culture, and transform the business.
If you need more convincing on WHY culture eats strategy for breakfast, or at any other mealtime, take a look at these thought provoking articles. When you want to know HOW to change your culture, contact On-Brand Partners.
Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch - Fast Company
Why Culture Doesn't Just Beat Strategy, It Must Be the Strategy - INC
Culture for a digital age - McKinsey
Behavioural guiderails offer companies a way to keep their staff on-brand and focussed on the same objectives. Let's look at how they can help.
Ensuring that your company stays on-brand is hugely important for both you and your customers. But it can be difficult to define what actions and behaviours deliver an 'on-brand' experience. The concept of behavioural guiderails provides a solution.
What we mean by behavioural guidelines
Jes Smith, Head of Partner Development here at ON-Brand Partners, says that behavioural guiderails are a way of articulating 'the way that we do things around here' - it's more about 'how' than about 'what' a company does.
"Behavioural guiderails are much more about culture than best practice," he says. "When we talk about best practice, that's all about the 'what' - process, procedure and policy. Behavioural guiderails are about the 'how'."
Behavioural guiderails aren't the same as values, but they're related - behavioural guiderails are an expression of a company's values. "They're the brand in action," Jes says.
Rather than a set of rules, a company's behavioural guiderails could be a set of three or four statements that describe the organisation's unique behavioural traits. When done well, these statements can express both how the people who work there act and respond, and also the principles to which they operate. Examples could be 'make it easy', 'make it happen', 'keep it simple' or 'tune in'.
The key thing is that behavioural guiderails need to be unique to a company, and meaningful for that organisation. Jes says that guiderails can give organisations a tool to help people talk about what is and isn't okay within the company.
"Once an organisation defines them, and they've had a hand in creating them, it gives people another way of challenging what we call off-brand behaviour. The concept of on-brand/off-brand is a simple, yet very powerful way of describing both positive and negative behaviour. It makes what could be a really challenging conversation an easier one to have."
Behavioural guiderails will be unique to a company, and meaningful for that organisation.
The benefits of behavioural guiderails
For individuals working in an organisation, behavioural guiderails can also foster connection and identification with the company.
"It promotes a real sense of belonging to the organisation - a real emotional connection," Jes says.
Behavioural guiderails can also help people deal with situations that don't have a clear answer - giving staff a way to approach problems that is on-brand, without imposing strict rules. They provide a framework that is flexible enough for individuals to adapt, but still stay aligned with the company's desired outcomes.
Although behavioural guiderails are primarily an internal device, they can be used to promote a company to customers, says Jes.
"Some of our clients do it. And I think it doesn't necessarily happen on purpose, it might happen by accident. If you get it right, and you get a really unique set of guiderails, they become the internal language which people start to use about how they should be working with each other, and treating colleagues and customers alike."
"And there's no reason why an organisation shouldn't put them out there - 'this is the way we do things around here - this is what makes us different, this is what makes us unique'. If it's used well it can be a real competitive advantage."
How to implement behavioural guiderails
"The only way to do this effectively is to engage and involve people throughout," Jes says. "You can't just make them up and tell people that's the way you're going to do things from now on. That's pushing someone else's way of working onto an organisation."
Rather than making up something new, Jes says defining behavioural guiderails is about 'unearthing' existing positive behaviour.
"Behavioural norms already exist in every organisation, and not all of them will be good. The secret is to unearth the good stuff, put emphasis on it, and structure around it. So as a leader or as a manager, I know the sort of things I should be rolemodelling, reinforcing and rewarding."
ON Brand Partners' role in defining behavioural guiderails.
"Something that is unique about ON Brand is how we do the unearthing," says Jes. “While many consultancies talk about co-creation, the way we engage and excite people in the process of co-creation sets us apart”.
By exploring the culture of the organisation through techniques like storytelling and appreciative inquiry, we get to the heart of who that organisation is - and specifically what they're like when they're at their best. Together we identify the common threads, and from there we co-create a set of behavioural guidelines that are unique for that organisation.