I was recently reintroduced to Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch’s book by the same name as the title. I have always liked the bluntness of the message, especially as it applies to Organizational Culture. The importance of the value and impact of culture begins with understanding what culture really is and that it has multiple moving parts. Once we define what culture is, we can then look at how culture affects organization execution externally as well as how culture impacts organizational operations internally. As leaders continue to fully grasp the nuances of 21st Century Leadership with all its changes, one truth remains constant; Culture will ultimately determine whether success is fleeting or sustainable!
Culture is defined as the system of shared values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that develops within an organization and guides the behavior of the members. Culture exists on some level with or without leadership doing anything at all to influence it. It is said the culture of an organization is defined by the time the 20th member is hired. The real issue, then, is whether the culture of the organization, whether for-profit, non-profit, private, public, large or small, is an asset or a liability to the Vision and the Strategy of that organization. How does the culture enable the right behavior of its members to execute its goals in a way that creates sustainable success while at the same time helping members deal with the day-to-day issues of working together?
Internal Integration ~ the internal integration dimension of organizational culture deals with how the members create and nurture their own unique identity. When members of an organization spend most of their working weeks together, an identity appears through the hundreds of daily dialogs and interactions the members participate in. These interactions are the basis of judgements by each member that lead to their own characterization of the organizational culture. It may be different for different groups within the organization. The sales team may have a different culture than the human resources team while the marketing team and IT team may not recognize each other’s cultures due to their own unique characterizations. However, all these characterizations must align to the overall organizational culture to achieve sustainable success. As Simon Sinek once said, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Thus, it is crucial the internal integration is in alignment so the external adaptation can succeed.
External Adaptation ~ the external adaptation dimension of organizational culture deals with how the members get things done. It speaks to the mission, strategy and associated goals the members are engaged to achieve and how they achieve them. As members interact, they form deeper understanding of how they contribute to the mission. They may see themselves as valuable knowledge workers to the mission or they may see themselves as expendable and interchangeable resources with only a cost value to the organization. Either way, the culture will unfold as members are able to tell external stakeholders how good they are and support it through the actions members take. The real question remains as to whether the organizational culture supports achieving the desired results for sustainable success!
The ability of a culture to adapt to constant changes in the business environment is crucial to an organization’s success. I would go so far as to say that the culture itself is defined as a one of adaptability as its primary characteristic. Having done this in previous organizations I’ve led, the ability to adjust to environmental changes was paramount to our ability to continue growing despite recessions, industry meltdowns, merger threats and terrorist attacks. All because we knew we had to adapt…or die!
How would you characterize your culture and how is it contributing to sustainable success?