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Culture eats strategy for breakfast
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There is a saying that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This is a very true and often overlooked by business owners who are frustrated by their inability to get their staff to change and implement new strategies.

Culture in a business is similar to personality and if our personality is the sum of all our habits then changing the culture in the business is about changing the collective habits of your employees in your business. We know changing a habit is hard and requires lots of discipline. So similarly it will require lots of discipline and persistence on the part of the leadership in a business to change the prevailing culture.

Edgar Schein’s book “Organisational Culture and Leadership” provides a great framework for changing the culture in a company. The framework proposes changing culture through primary embedding mechanisms and secondary reinforcing mechanisms.

Primary embedding mechanism would require the leadership of the business to undertake the following actions to make changes to the prevailing culture:

Pay attention to, measure and control areas that need change on a consistent and regular basis – what gets measured gets done, so if you want to change, for example, the activity levels of your sales team then you need monitor this on a daily basis.

React to critical incidents or crises in a manner consistent with the culture you desire – if eliminating discrimination in the workplace is a culture you desire, then, if someone discriminates you must take action and deal with the incident regardless of the offender.

Allocate resources to effect the required change – this could be an allocation of time to implement or manage a desired change or could be an investment of funds in training to assist employees to change a certain behavior.

Be a role model, teacher and coach for the culture you desire – our businesses are often a reflection of ourselves, so to change the culture we need to model the culture we desire to our employees and spend time teaching and coaching them to do the same. For example if we want our company to be a learning organisation we must ourselves undertake on-going learning and share what we have learnt with our staff.

Allocating rewards and status for complying with defined culture – whilst bonuses and increases are often linked to meeting job expectations these also need to be linked to achieving a behaviour consistent with the culture of the business.

Making compliance with company culture a basis for recruitment, promotion and dismissal of employees – we should only recruit people who are willing to fit with our desired culture and for current employees their future progress should be dependent on their willingness to embrace this culture.

Secondary reinforcing mechanisms are there to reinforce the actions taken above and would include having your culture statement displayed in your business, introducing team rituals and traditions and designing an organisational structure to support the desired culture.

If you are not happy with the culture in your business then the starting point is to clearly define the culture you would like, make sure you model this yourself and then use the above framework to effect the change in culture in your business. If you are looking to drive cultural change in your company and want guidance in effecting and facilitating the process please contact us

Added: 8th April 2011

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