Leadership Lesson: Drifting culture and adjusting the company’s spine

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on January 12, 2018

Oh, sure. Strategic plan and the vision, purpose, mission, values. Very important, of course. Anybody mention “organizational culture?” In the annual overhaul of our annual plan, we re-evaluate our vision and mission. We spot new trends, market and competitive directions, and the business landscape. We are missing something. Culture.

Culture is the spinal column for the effective operation of the organization. Have a great vision, mission, and values – strong values embodied in the active attitudes and behaviors of the company is the real culture.

But there is a hidden flaw. What?

Oh, oh

We assume that even a great organizational and workplace culture once established is fixed forever. Bad assumption. Even if our vision, mission, and values have not changed, culture could have. Both the external and internal landscapes have moved.

Internally, there are new people, including leaders. Products and processes have been added, altered, and abandoned. Facilities have shifted. 

Externally, markets are moving, competitors have joined in, and economies are different. The environment is changing.

Culture audit

Given that culture is the collective behaviors and attitudes of a group, where does it come from? The stated values of the company, the unstated values, and the values of leaders. Given the critical nature and impact of culture, why not review it annually? And here are some key questions to ask:

1.     How do you describe the current culture in overall attitudes and behaviors?

2.     How does is relate to the values of the organization?

3.     Does the key leadership team of the company uphold this culture?

4.     How is the culture any different than it was a year ago?

5.     What internal and external influences caused it to change?

6.     Were the changes negative, positive, or both?

7.     Describe the gap between the existing culture and the desired one.

8.     What impact is the existing culture having on the organization’s performance?

9.     What is missing from the culture?

10.  Is there a cultural element that should be removed or altered?

11.  What do we not know about our culture?

12.  What would be our ideal culture and what has to change to get there?

Ask employees what they think of the culture. Also ask outsiders, such as customers and vendors. Gather up all the answers and ideas, and then assemble a small team to help define changes that are needed. And implement them.

A coffee culture

“When we began Starbucks, what I wanted to try to do was to create a set of values, guiding principles, and culture.” – Howard Schultz, executive chairman 

The primary components of Starbucks organizational culture are:

·       Servant Leadership (“employees first”)

·       Relationship-driven approach

·       Collaboration and communication

·       Openness

·       Inclusion and diversity

Panmore Institute defines Starbucks’s organizational culture as a highly distinct feature. While seen in the corporate offices, this culture is easily observed in the 25,000 cafes worldwide – how the employees interact with each other and with customers. The friendly, inviting ambiance is a clear distinction from most competitors. Their culture relates to the successful strategy for brand development and global expansion. A strong serving.

The bottom lines

Culture. Understand it, its powerful impact, and its relationship to your vision, mission and values. Know what goes into it. Importantly, do not take it for granted. Review it annually and keep it relevant. Internally and externally. 

Click here to read this article on the Phoenix Business Journal site.