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Declare A Culture

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines culture as the “set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an organization or corporation”.  We group shared attitudes, values and practices and encapsulate them in what we call Core Values and where the goals are cast in what we call the Core Purpose, to avoid confusion with short-term financial goals. 

A corporate culture needs to reflect the organization’s business philosophy and needs to support the execution of its strategies.  Organization culture can often be an inhibiting factor for change and renewal.  It is therefore important to create a culture that inculcates focus, action, learning and change. 

Successful organizations have a strong culture, a cult-like culture where good enough never is.  They build a culture where bureaucracy and hierarchy are not there to compensate for the lack of discipline.  They declare a culture of discipline, empowerment, performance management, nimbleness, execution, trust, commitment and accountability.  They declare a culture where disciplined people, engaging in disciplined thoughts, and taking disciplined actions.

A disciplined culture is one where people know exactly what has to be done, and making sure it gets done with consistency and rigor.  Discipline requires control.  No downhill skier ever won a race without complete motion control.  Same is true in a disciplined culture, everyone should be in tight control of their environment, and discipline starts with the Board of Directors and in the CEO’s office and those of the senior managers. 

Core Values

Core Values define the attitudes, the beliefs and the practices that are expected from all employees; Core Values establish the standard by which employees make prioritization decisions; Core Values become your guide as to who fits in, and does not.  They create a sense of identity.

Good organizations should have established four to eight Core Value statements, and again explain what is meant by the words selected.  For example, you may declare Service Excellence as one of you Core Values.  The words would naturally trigger a set of attitudes, beliefs and practices.  However, rather than assuming that employees will get it, you are better off explaining what you mean in words such as “We understand and anticipate the needs of our customers.  We aim at customer delight.  We are easy to do business with.  We do things right the first time and we eliminate internal inefficiencies because they cost our customers and ourselves time, money and opportunities.” 

Siebel Systems had defined four core values: i) Customer Satisfaction; ii) Professional Courtesy; iii) Professionalism; and iv) Goal and Action Orientation.  They went on to produce a 47-page manifesto that details how to interpret each core value and the expected behaviors.

Core Values can be more traditional and include such topics as integrity, respect and teamwork or more result oriented with topics such as clarity, accountability, and fortitude.  Again, they can be more encompassing such as Siebel’s or those prescribed by Geoffrey Moore in his bestseller “Living on the Fault Line – Managing for Shareholder Value in any Economy”.  Moore prescribes what he calls The Four Value Disciplines: i) Operational Excellence; ii) Customer Intimacy; iii) Product Leadership; and iv) Disruptive Technology.  For Moore, these four Core Values establish the right attitudes, values and practices that increase shareholder value(6).  Core values should reinforce the creation of value for all stakeholders.  It should talk about employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders.  There  is nothing wrong in including money or size as part of the value system.  In fact, in can be argued that successful organizations usually value profitability, shareholder returns, and their clout in the market.  However, transitioning to a culture of profitability is a difficult and painful process.

No matter what they are, or why they are chosen, Core Values, which are the art of an organization’s culture, will shape the behaviors that will be witnessed in the organization, but only to the extend that a) the values system is documented and understood and b) it is lived by the most senior executives. 

Not only do the senior executives have to live the value system, they have to have the fortitude to condemn publicly departures from the value system.  Anything less will be interpreted as a license to ignore the leadership framework as a whole.  Adopting the value system is like being pregnant, it is binary.

Core Purpose

Many organizations have what is called a Mission Statement.  This is another confusing term, because there are several schools of thoughts on the subject.  To avoid such confusion, the mission, or mission statement, is called a sense of purpose, or as Guy Kawasaky calls it, a mantra(15).  It answers the question “Why do we come to work every morning?” or “What de we stand for?”  It is important that people come to work for other reasons than to earn a living, or to get a pay check, or other personal reasons.  The primary purpose of the organization, its mission, its core purpose, what it stands for, is of course linked to the fundamental belief and the vision, but can also allow employees to contribute to society, to their customers, in some semi-altruistic manner.  As Carly Fiorina, former CEO at HP say in her book Tough Choices “People achieve more when they are motivated by a purpose worthy of their efforts.”

Examples, of mission statements could be “we make Canadian organizations better” or “We bring together the human capital that builds strong organizations.”  These mission statements or mantras are not talking about the future, but rather about today.  They are not talking about making money, but about goals that are more philanthropic – they are unique and memorable.  They are personal so that all employees can confirm their respective participation.  Some could argue that statements of purpose such as those can be seem as so broad that they become meaningless.  Largeness of purpose is crucial, as it allows a certain degree of freedom within the confines of the vision and strategies, yet providing further guidance as to the types of activities, or initiatives the organization should subscribed to.  We believe that they provide a context that drives very specific choices about how to behave.  Conversely, it adds precision to the envisioned future and the core strategies and keeps the organization within the prescribed field of execution.

Clearly, the choice of words is again very important and more so is the need for employees to understand how the organization, the divisions, the departments and they themselves are actually contributing to delivering the mission, everyday.

There are seven important characteristics of a good expression of an organization’s core purpose or sense of purpose:

  • It absolutely has to be inspiring to those inside the organization
  • It is very short (3-10 words)
  • It has to be something that could be as valid 100 years from now as it is today
  • It should help you think expansively about what you could do but are not doing
  • It should help you decide what not to do
  • It has to be truly authentic to your organization
  • It should focus you on your customers, and therefore making your future a reality

Build a Vision Know Thy Fundamental Belief

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Published at 20:01

11 March 2011

RGB Global Executive foresight
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