There are three keys to growth as an individual or an organisation: Strategy, leadership and culture. Having the right strategy in place will save you time, efforts and resources. Possessing the right leadership mindset to take responsibility for your results will fast track your success and greatness. However, you must also develop the culture required for growth and transformation because strategy and leadership are not enough. Peter Drucker brilliantly opined, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.”
Year 2020 has clearly revealed how uncertain our world is, how well-planned strategy can become quickly outdated. Year 2021, provides a new opportunity to think and act differently. Most important, the new year comes with new opportunities to do things differently in order to achieve better results.
By the way, what is culture? Culture is a set of beliefs and behaviours that define how work gets done, what is appropriate and what is not. Culture is how you do things as an organisation. Beliefs are a set of assumptions people bring to work every day and that manifests throughout the company as “things we hold to be true.”
Behaviours are the things people do every day to get work done: the actions that we take and the words we say. An individual’s behaviour is a reflection of their belief. Therefore, to transform the way people behave in your organisation and the level of results they achieve, you must first disrupt their belief system. Mandating a new behaviour like openness makes little impact unless it reflects a fundamental shift in the underlying beliefs.
There are two types of culture – stuck culture and flux culture. A stuck culture is one that is stuck in the past with the beliefs, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” “Do not share information with others” and “What works today will work in the future.” In a stuck culture, everyone follows the chain of command; there is no room for creativity and people in leadership position can’t stand being challenged.
On the flip side, a flux culture builds a foundation of trust and safety, giving people the audacity to push the limits of norms, disrupt things and radically transform how work gets done. A flux culture thrives on the beliefs that, “there is always a better way,” “information is quickly shared except on a need-to-keep-secret basis”, and “what works today won’t in the future, unless it is improved.”
In my study, I have found three beliefs that support flux culture in different organisations, regardless of the industry or size. They are openness, agency and action. Organisations like McKinsey, ING Bank Netherlands, Nokia, Amazon, Alibaba, GT Bank, Google, Southwest Airlines and Microsoft are examples of companies that have developed flux cultures that support innovation, disruption and transformation.
First, openness is the availability of information for decision-making in the organisation. The more information that is available and the faster it flows bottom up and top down, the more likely it is that the organisation can make use of it to drive growth and decision-making.
You must commit to sharing information freely within the organisation. Publicly-recognised top performers encourage average performers and inform poor performers their stand. Create platforms within the organisation to share information quickly. Always ask for feedbacks on processes and policies. However, the only information that should not be shared are on a need-to-keep-secret basis like legal proceedings, intellectual property or salary information.
Second, agency is giving employees the enabling environment to take ownership, as well as the authority to make some decisions within their own sphere of influence. Organisations that give their employees the capacity to act independently and make their own choices help them to see themselves as owners and partners-in-progress of the transformation journey.
By the way, agency is not the same as empowerment, which is the power that comes from leaders at the top to employees at the bottom. Agency is a two-way street: power comes with responsibility and accountability. Companies that give their employees agency over decisions make this understanding explicit: if you get to make a decision, you will be accountable for it. Simply put, agency is more than empowerment.
Third, a bias for action is the most significant advantage of flux culture over stuck culture. Flux culture speeds actively toward change because of the opportunities and possibilities for growth it represents. Flux culture prefers action over inaction, taking risks rather than seeking certainty, climbing new mountains instead of staying in the same place. A bias for action empowers organisations to constantly position themselves for new growth.
As a business leader, you can start changing your culture by identifying the beliefs that hold your team back and develop the system to not act on those beliefs anymore. The system to change includes structure, process, rituals, symbols and stories that form the soul, backbone and lifeblood of your organisation.
To make year 2021 a productive and profitable year for your organisation you must adopt new beliefs and behaviours that support growth and disruptive transformation.
ACTION PLAN: How can you work on yourself to develop a new belief system that supports growth? How can you invest in your employees to develop a new culture that supports disruptive transformation?
AFFIRMATION: I have what it takes to make year 2021 a profitable year. I am blessed and highly favoured.
Sesan Kareem helps business leaders and organisations instils within them, not just the belief system to succeed and the motivation to excel, but also the actionable strategies to grow and thrive in our ever-changing world.