Building a Culture that is Aligned

Success in speeding up the culture change will only come when everyone’s actions, beliefs and experiences are aligned from person to person and across the various functions of the company.

The more completely aligned the culture, the more everyone will concentrate on achieving the key results the organization wants to achieve.

In order to achieve the desired results, leaders must become effective at saying and doing things that foster the experiences that create or reinforce the beliefs that motivate the desired actions that produce performance improvements.

They must avoid saying or doing things that shifts the culture out of alignment, for example, praising and promoting an employee who does not demonstrate the organization’s cultural beliefs in his or her everyday work.

Leaders should understand that employment promotions create a lasting experience on employees at the same time instill different beliefs on them.

Promoting people who do not live your organization’s cultural beliefs is likened to a company travelling hundred miles per hour on an icy road, headed toward a cliff.

Effective leaders of culture change manage in a way that gets a culture aligned with results, and then they work to keep it aligned.

Transforming from one culture of unsatisfactory performance delivery to one of highly satisfactory performance delivery requires paying close attention to all the adjusting parts of your organization’s culture and making sure that they are accurately aligned to one another.

Neither meaningful nor rapid culture change will occur unless the experiences, beliefs and actions are aligned with and reinforce the key results or performance to be achieved.

If the culture is out of alignment, employees will pursue their own agendas at the expense of organizational goals and objectives, stress levels run high, decisions are made based on gut feeling rather than on facts and information and enterprise performance is painfully poor.

The opposite holds true, if the culture is aligned and there is goal congruence, there will be accelerated positive culture change, everyone stays on the same page, people feel less stressed, decisions are intelligently made using analytic-based information and facts and enterprise performance is positive.

Like managing culture, maintaining alignment is a process, not an event.

You may gain complete alignment around key performance improvements and cultural beliefs, but at some point, there is need to continuously improve from these performance levels for long-term success.

If you have successfully delivered the desired results before, you must be confident that you can do it again.

Culture management is not something you can do once and then leave alone. Culture always needs to be managed relative to the results or performance you are working to achieve. Your company’s culture will not stay in alignment by itself.

There will always be constant forces threatening to push you, your team, or your organization out of alignment. As a leader, you must remain on the guard, identifying any lack of alignment and striking quickly to correct the problem.

As research has shown that most change initiatives often face resistance and fail to deliver the hoped-for results, in order to get buy-in from the entire organization, leaders need to get key people on board who will take ownership for the change process, produce enough alignment and positive momentum to keep the change effort energized and moving forward.

Additionally, leaders must be able to built a positive case for change by clearly clarifying why the culture needs changing and also why the organization needs to do it now.

They can do this by making the case for change real, applicable to the audience, simple and repeatable, convincing and making it a dialogue.

To ensure alignment around key decisions with individuals, teams or the entire organization, leaders must:

  • Get the appropriate people involved
  • Create accountability by identifying who will make the decision
  • Foster discussion to ensure that people speak up and are heard
  • Support ownership by promoting decision-making at every organizational level
  • Be consistent with the message of culture change and follow-up to check in and test for alignment.

The more effectively management teams align themselves and their entire organization around the cultural transition, the faster the organization will move toward a game-changing cultural transition.

Nothing more powerfully affects a successful cultural transition outcome than a management team fully aligned around results, the case for change, the cultural beliefs and the culture the methodology for changing culture.

Either you will manage culture or it will manage you.

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2 Replies to “Building a Culture that is Aligned”

  1. Hey Peter,

    Great article here. When it comes to risk management, the cultural alignment is led by management. It’s also important to note that policies, procedures, and training are – on their own – ineffective at ensuring compliance. Compliance comes from the attitude and environment that’s created by management in the workplace.

    I wrote an interesting article that includes 3 strategies to help manage risk culture. What are your thoughts?

  2. Hey Matthew,

    Thanks for your comment. It is true that an organization might have all the policies, procedures, training etc in place but if the culture is off, there is no tangible benefit whatsoever to the organization. Experiences are the drivers of performance. Bad experiences will always have negative implications on performance.

    I like the three points you raise in your article. The reason why we still see many organizations making blind decisions based on gut feel and not aknowledging risks presence is because of the way they view risk. Gone are the days where risk management was the police guard of the organization. Risk management is now an enabler of value creation.

    Proper acknowledgement by senior management that risks do exist is helping them identify threats to strategy formulation and execution. Ultimately, these senior managers are best positioned to make informed decisions that not only preserve corporate value, but also increase it.

    Transparency and respect for risk is shown by the way the leaders prioritise enterprise risk management. If the tone from upstairs is dull, the behaviours at the bottom will trully reflect this. If leaders only listen to their own voices and refuse advice and education on risk awareness, asessment and management from unit managers etc, results achieved will also reflect this.

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Recent Posts


The Art of Risk Management

This is the title of the article by BCG published a few years ago. The article discusses the principles that should govern the approach to risk management by companies of all shapes and sizes.

The authors make several points with which I agree. Here are some excerpts:

  • Risk management is essential in today’s volatile economy. In a continuously changing economic environment, companies cannot assume a stable risk landscape.
  • Stop thinking of risk management as primarily a regulatory issue. Embed risk management in the mindset of the broader organization.
  • Risk management is a value-creating activity that is an essential part of the strategic conversation inside the company. The goal of that discussion should not be to eliminate or minimize risk but to use it to create a competitive advantage.
  • Risk management starts at the top. The organization needs to demonstrate that it has made risk management a high priority and an integral part of the decision-making process by appointing a dedicated risk leader who reports back frequently to the CEO and the board to discuss the latest trends and any changes in the company’s risk scenarios.
  • Risk cannot be managed from an ivory tower. Risk Management should not exist in isolation from the rest of the organization, with an insufficiently granular understanding of the actual business-specific risks the company faces. To avoid this outcome, integrate risk management into the company’s entire routine management processes, including planning, capital allocation, controlling, and reporting.
    • Understand the scope of the risks the company faces.
    • Plan for how the company will manage those risks.
    • Act to mitigate the risks or take advantage of strategic opportunities.
  • Avoid relying on black boxes. Although sometimes appropriate, over-reliance on complex metrics or models can muddy the risk management process, turning it from a transparent management activity into a frustrating black box. The appropriate level of complexity is company-specific and depends on the industry, business model, availability of data, level of experience, and mandatory legal requirements.
  • Align risk management with a company’s overall business strategy. Companies need to identify all relevant risks – not just those that can be easily quantified. Some of the relevant risks for a company may be those that are qualitative and especially difficult to quantify.
  • Risk management is more than a policy; it is a culture. The objective of a company’s risk-management system should be not only to enforce new policies but also to create a risk-aware culture that addresses risks proactively, not reactively, and manages them to create new sources of competitive advantage.
  • Effective risk management depends on the free flow of information throughout the organization. Unless employees at all levels of the organization are actively involved in the risk management process, it will be difficult to maintain the unrestricted flow of information. This can result in the most important data getting buried in one part of the organization unavailable to other parts of the business.
  • Risk management deals with uncertain futures. As a result, the goal should not be to develop precise metrics or future outcomes but to strive for a general understanding of the probabilities and potential impact of various trends or scenarios on business performance and enable decision-makers to confront the uncertain nature of risk and act accordingly.
  • Risk management is never about finding “the answer.” Rather, it is about continually refining the organization’s assumptions about the future and its understanding of the implications of those assumptions for the company’s business. Assumptions about risk often change quickly, so the relevant parameters, probabilities, impacts, and correlations should be revisited frequently.
  • It is possible to prepare for unknown risks by building an organization that so excels at crisis management that it is resilient even in situations in which it is blindsided by unprecedented challenges. For example, through developing the ability to detect, capture, and exploit information patterns as well as to think outside existing frameworks and risk landscapes.
  • Avoid the downside, but don’t forget the upside. Companies should use risk management also to identify new opportunities and to exploit them systematically. For example, scenario planning should be used to define not only worst-case scenarios but also best-case scenarios. Think in advance about how a company can make the best use of the latest market developments and trends and ultimately make the right decisions.

I enjoyed reading the article and highly recommend it.

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Leading in Uncertain Times

One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today is making the right decisions that will ensure their organizations succeed, survive, and remain competitive in an increasingly uncertain and complex environment.

A recent post, The best way to lead in uncertain times may be to throw out the playbook, by Strategy+Business has several good points.

The article is about the COVID-19 pandemic, how global companies navigated through the crisis, and how best to prepare for future disruptions. Here are some key points and my comments.

  • Rather than follow a rigid blueprint, executives must help organizations focus on sensing and responding to unpredictable market conditions.
    • Comment: Senior leaders play a vital role in providing clarity about the organization’s strategic direction, creating alignment on key priorities to ensure the achievement of enterprise objectives, and ensuring the business model is continuously evolving to create and capture value in the face of uncertainty. They must not rest on their laurels and stick to the beliefs and paradigms that got them to where they are today and hope they will carry them through tomorrow. Regulatory changes, new products, competition, markets, technologies, and shifts in customer behavior are upending many outdated assumptions about business success. Thus, the businesses you have today are different from the ones you will need in the future hence the importance of continuously sensing changes in the global economy. Employees and teams often feed off the energy of their leaders and tend to focus their attention where the leader focuses attention. If the leader is comfortable with current business practices and rarely embraces the future or challenges the status quo, then the team is highly likely to follow suit.
  • When it became clear that supply chains and other operations would fracture, organizations began scenario planning to shift production sources, relocate employees, and secure key supplies.
    • Comment: Instead of using scenario planning to anticipate the future and prepare for different outcomes, it seems most of the surveyed organizations used scenario planning as a reactionary tool. Don’t wait for a crisis or a shift in the market to start thinking about the future. The world is always changing. As I wrote in The Resilient Organization, acknowledge that the future is a range of possible outcomes, learn and develop capabilities to map out multiple future scenarios, develop an optimal strategy for each of those scenarios, then continually test the effectiveness of these strategies. This does not necessarily mean that every change in the market will impact your business. Identify early warnings of what might be important and pay closer attention to those signals. In other words, learn to separate the signals from the noise.
  • The pandemic forced the organization’s senior management team to re-examine how all decisions were made.
    • Comment: Bureaucracy has for a very long time stood in the way of innovation and agility. To remain innovative and adapt quickly in a fast-changing world, the organization must have nimble leadership and an empowered workforce where employees at all levels can dream up new ideas and bring them to life. Identifying and acting on emerging threats and potential opportunities is not the job of the leader alone but every team member. To quote Rita McGrath, in her book Seeing Around Corners, she writes, “Being able to detect weak signals that things are changing requires more eyes and ears throughout the organization. The critical information that informs decision-making is often locked in individual brains.” In addition to the internal environment, the leader must also connect with the external environment (customers, competitors, regulators, and other stakeholders), looking for what is changing and how.
  • It’s worthwhile for leaders of any team to absorb the lessons of sense-respond-adapt, even if there is no emergency at hand.
  • Sensing: Treat the far-flung parts of your enterprise as listening stations. The question leaders must ask is, “What are we learning from our interactions beyond the usual information about costs and sales?” Train your people to listen for potentially significant anomalies and ensure that important information is not trapped in organizational silos.
    • Comment: Cost and sales data are lagging indicators that reveal the consequences or outcomes of past activities and decisions. Although this information can help leaders spot trends by looking at patterns over time, it doesn’t help understand the future and inform what needs to be done for the numbers to tell a different story. In addition to lagging indicators, pay attention to current and leading indicators and understand the relationship between these indicators and outcomes.
  • Responding: Improve communication across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries. Leaders should view business continuity as an essential function that acts as connective tissue for the enterprise.
    • Comment: In addition to creating mechanisms that allow the free flow of information both inside and outside the organization, decision-makers should also be comfortable receiving information that challenges their personal view of the world, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Create a culture of psychological safety where people are not afraid to share bad news for fear of getting punished, but rather are acknowledged and rewarded for speaking up. Leveraging the diversity of thought enables leaders to anticipate the future as an organization, decide what to do about it collectively, and then mobilize the organization to do what’s necessary.
  • Adapting: Challenge assumptions, and question orthodoxies. There’s always the temptation to mitigate threats simply by applying existing practices harder and faster. One way to get at those deeper issues and encourage double-loop learning is to ask, “What needs to be true for this to be the right approach?”
    • Comment: In an increasingly uncertain environment, it’s difficult to survive and thrive with an old business model or outdated technologies. Many businesses fail because they continue doing the same thing for too long, and they don’t respond quickly enough and effectively when conditions change. As a leader, stay curious and connected to the external environment, look for market shifts, understand what needs to be regularly refreshed and reimagined, adopt new technologies and capabilities, and adapt in ordinary times but also during times of transition. Unfortunately for many leaders, it’s just more convenient for them to continually downplay the fact that conditions are changing than take the appropriate course of action that drives business success.

How are you preparing your organization for potential future disruptions?

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The Collaborative Organization

These days the term collaboration has become synonymous with organizational culture, creativity, innovation, increased productivity, and success.

Let’s look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. At the peak of the crisis, several companies instructed their workers to adopt remote working as a health and safety precautionary measure.

Two years into the pandemic, they are now asking their employees back to the office full time or are planning to adopt a hybrid model.

The need to preserve our collaborative culture and accelerate innovation are two of the top benefits being cited by organizational and team leaders for bringing workers back.

Collaboration is indeed essential for the achievement of team goals, functional objectives, and the overall success of the organization.

Today’s breakthrough innovations are emerging from many interacting teams and collaborative relationships.

When teams, functions, and organizations collaborate, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; group genius emerges, and creativity unfolds.

But, what makes a successful collaboration? What are the key enabling conditions?

  • It extends beyond the boundaries of the organization. Business success is a function of internal and external relationships. Instead of viewing your business in vacuo, understand that you are part of an ecosystem. External to your organization, who do you need to partner with to enhance your value creation processes, achieve/exceed your objectives, or successfully execute your strategy?
  • Ensure the objectives are clear and there is shared understanding by everyone. Unclear objectives are one of the topmost barriers to team and organizational performance.
  • Foster a culture that encourages opinions and ideas that challenge the consensus. People should feel free to share their ideas and not hold back for fear of others penalizing them or thinking less of them. Collaboration is hindered when one or two people dominate the discussion, are arrogant, or don’t think they can learn anything from others.
  • Groups perform more effective under certain circumstances, and less effective under others. There is a tendency to fixate on certain topics of discussion amongst groups which often leaves members distracted from their ideas. To reduce the negative effects of topic fixation, members of the group should be given periods to work alone and switch constantly between individual activity and group interaction.
  • Effective collaboration can happen if the people involved come from diverse backgrounds and possess complementary skills to prevent conformity. The best collective decisions or creative ideas are often a product of different bodies of knowledge, multiple opinions, disagreement, and divergent thought processes, not consensus or compromise.
  • New technologies are making collaboration easier than ever, enabling us to increase our reach and broaden our network. Although new technology helps, it will not make your organization collaborative without the right culture and values in place. First, define what you want to achieve through collaboration then use these tools to promote creative collaboration.

How else are you championing collaboration within your organization to create value and succeed?

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