The Unseen Engine: Why Culture Fuels Business Success

The concept of culture is often relegated to buzzwords like "employee engagement" or "corporate values," overlooking its systemic nature
Dr. John O. Burdett
Dr. John O. Burdett

In the fast-paced world of business today, the term "organisational culture" often gets lost amid talks of strategy, technology, and talent management. Yet, culture is the glue that holds these components together, the unseen engine that fuels a company's ability to adapt and thrive.

Culture Is a System

The concept of culture is often relegated to buzzwords like "employee engagement" or "corporate values," overlooking its systemic nature. According to Burdett, this can lead to unintended consequences. Introducing a new process or technology without fully integrating it into your existing culture is akin to fixing a car's radiator and causing the whole engine to collapse. Everything in an organisation, from its approach to innovation to its market responsiveness, is influenced by its culture. Understanding culture as a system enables leaders to see how these elements interconnect, avoiding a siloed approach to problem-solving.

The Importance of Symbols and Stories

One underappreciated aspect of culture is the power of symbolism. From global movements sparked by a single event, such as the tragic death of George Floyd, to a corporate motto that unifies an organisation, symbols resonate deeply. Leaders who understand this can use it to facilitate change more effectively. Alongside symbolism, storytelling is another crucial cultural element. Stories encapsulate the history, values, and aspirations of an organisation, offering employees a shared narrative to identify with. Effective leaders are also compelling storytellers, capable of conveying complex ideas through relatable narratives.

Adaptation Is Not Enough

In a rapidly changing business landscape, merely adapting to external changes isn't enough. Companies that are in a constant state of "catch-up" run the risk of mediocrity. What's needed is a culture that is not just reactive, but proactive, one that not only adapts to change but anticipates it. This requires a shift in mindset, both at an individual and organisational level, to embrace both transitional and transformational changes.

Measuring What Matters

Culture may be intangible, but it's not unmeasurable. For meaningful culture measurement, the following key criteria must be met: 

  1. Business Terms: Culture must be measured in terms that resonate with business leaders. Vague or abstract concepts will quickly lose their attention. 

  2. Actionable Insights: Any cultural assessment should offer actionable takeaways that all levels of the organisation can understand and implement.

  3. Fitness for Purpose: The approach to measurement must be tailored to the audience, whether it's the board of directors or the general workforce.

By establishing metrics that adhere to these criteria, companies can integrate culture into their strategic planning effectively.

In closing, organisational culture is not a standalone subject. It's an amalgamation of various factors that collectively define how a company operates and evolves. Business leaders who acknowledge this can better steer their organisations towards success, making culture an asset rather than an afterthought!

(Dr. John O. Burdett is a Consultant at TRANSEARCH)

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