Cultural deficiencies are often the biggest impediments to business success. Peter Drucker put it well when he wrote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Yet, despite these time-honored words, companies continue to design and launch ambitious strategies without seriously tackling the cultural obstacles to implementation, mostly because they don’t really know where to begin.
There are many definitions for culture. Our favorite is simple: culture is how your people behave. To change it you need to change behavior, but not by declaring a list of desired new behaviors in such things as fancy competency models or value statements and then training people to exhibit them. Rather, you need to understand that individuals are attracted to organizations that reward behaviors that are energy driving for the individuals. Similarly, they avoid organizations that reward behaviors which are energy draining. Once a culture is established, it becomes a magnet for people who derive energy from it. And that is precisely why culture is so hard to change. Any meaningful change would require adopting new behaviors that will be energy draining to many people in the organization. This means changing culture may require making significant changes in your teams, beginning with leaders whose behaviors are modeled broadly in the organization.
Here’s how we approach culture change. Start by defining the culture you want and the behaviors that support it. Then, correlate these behaviors with statistically measurable internal motivators as reflected on established personality assessments, such as the Sigma Personality Research Form E. Then, assess people against these internal motivators. Those who measure strongly against the motivators will be able to adapt to the culture you want. Those who measure weakly will have difficulty.
Once you have taken these diagnostic steps, it’s time to decide what action to take. The answer will depend on the assessment results and on the risk of change. At a minimum you should change your recruiting standards and build succession slates to align with the internal motivators. Our advice is to be as bold as possible. The stakes are enormous.