July 14, 2011

Framing a Culture Discussion

Earlier this week I wrote about the progress we made around our culture evolution during our Annual Operating Plan (AOP) review. We set a solid half day at that review to have a great discussion on the evolution of our culture. Our goal was to get our strategic team to engage, just like the rest of the organization is engaged now. We wanted them to participate in the definition exercise.

As executives we are strongly focussed on results, return on investments etc. This is good; this is what we wake up in the morning with. In the context of a culture evolution the measurements are fuzzier and definitely less measurable. There is also the notion that there are no problems that can't be fixed. As such, no recognition is given to the problem space; we just jump into the solution space. Lastly, since we're short on time all the time, we tend to sell things to people as opposed to looking for engagement.

We used the opportunity of the AOP to drive home a few points so that the ongoing conversation would be in line with the expectations. Our culture evolution is a journey and this is a big concept to internalize. I think the points we made apply well to all sorts of longer term changes. More importantly, they are concepts that we need to play with and be aware of.

The points we made can be summed as follows:

Guide Versus Solve

I'm a doer at heart and I have a team of people who strongly believe in results too. So when we're in a situation where a solution is needed, we jump right in. We are solvers and we do not guide very well. It's important to understand that as managers and executives, in certain circumstances what is expected of us, or what we need to be doing, is to Guide people. I like the idea that in certain cases we're the map maker and are helping people find their route. In the context of the evolution of the culture this is very true. I have ideas, strong ones I might say, on certain aspects, and ultimately it's about making sure that all input is on the map, so that from there we can determine how to navigate the map. In this process at this time, we are guides creating a map.

Engage versus Buy-In 

The point here is we're not here to sell. We're here to engage you in the journey that will see us evolve our culture and aspire to the values that we believe represent the company we want to be in order to achieve our full potential. This is a discussion where we're here to listen to what you have to say. We have ideas on the table to start off the discussion.  We want to hear what those ideas trigger for you in your gut when you listen to what is going on or when you hear people present and discuss them. We want to capture the nuances, differences, similarities; get your "I will say what I think and feel about this" cap on right away and let's dive into it together. People want to be heard. Buy-in is about getting one's ideas across while Engage is an invitation to discuss with the view that your ideas are as good as mine. Engage is more about people being heard.  

Business Results and Culture

Many of the members of our strategic team are also part of the executive team. The executive team is the team responsible for the execution of the plan, so naturally they are heavily geared towards getting things done. The idea here is to remind all of us that we have a culture no matter what. This culture that we have leads to business results. Being intentional about our corporate culture will lead to the desired business results. In return, getting the right business results will reinforce the culture that we have. The main point to take away is not Business results OR Culture, what is important? It's both. It's Business results AND Culture as an infinity loop; they feed on each other and success in one allows you to go further in the other.

Take Aways

We must have several tools in our toolbox. I like to remind myself of the points above to have a better frame of mind when approaching a discussion where it's clear we're not in a sprint!

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