Your Ideal Business

Business efficiency and smart, strategic decisions. When we think of companies new and old, thriving and defunct, these are two contrasts that stand between the most successful companies and those that are subject to diminishing growth. These are two principles that virtually every leader strives to achieve, each with their own strategy to get the most out of their teams. And while Presidents and CEOs strive towards these ideals, sometimes they can get caught up in fighting fires and dealing with tactical challenges to keep the business running day in and day out.

As an executive, you are under immense pressure to produce consistent results and push your business forward in new, more profitable directions. You are responsible for growing your bottom line while keeping your competition top of mind. Above all, you must take ownership for the daily make-or-break decisions that impact your company’s success. And of course, in order to be a great leader you must always be prepared to answer the tough questions.

But too often, one of the most important questions is never asked out loud: What type of culture do you want to nurture and promote for your team?

A progressive and clearly defined culture is one of the most important aspects of a well rounded business strategy. And according to Bain & Company research, 70% of business leaders agree: Culture provides the greatest source of competitive advantage. Furthermore, 75% believe that a culture is conducive to change.

But sometimes, Execs can be too passive when it comes to defining and executing a winning culture. The report shows that 65% of Execs believe they need to change their current culture. Most surprisingly though, fewer than 10% are actually successful in building a winning culture.

So why are Executives bypassing this critical question? The issue lies in the misconceived notions surrounding workplace culture. Some leaders believe that culture is an inherited business characteristic. Execs fall victim to believing that culture is innate – akin to someone’s personality – and is therefore uncontrollable.

But the truth is that cultures are always in flux between 2 polar states, frozen and flexible. The key is taking the steps to create a more flexible culture that is willing to adopt positive change.

According to Bain & Company’s 2006 report titled Building a Winning Culture, there are 5 key steps to building a winning team:

1. Set expectations about the necessity for change, the type of new culture required and how it will result in success. The organization needs to know what is unique in its heritage and which performance attributes are missing.

2. Align the leadership team around a common vision and required behaviors. While many factors influence culture, the single most important is leadership—what leaders do and say, in that order, consistently over time.

3.  Focus the organization on delivering the business agenda. A culture of accountability is best achieved by holding people accountable for actual delivery, rather than spending energy on a formal “culture change” program. Culture is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

4. Manage the culture by managing the drivers of culture. Encourage the leadership team to “walk the talk;” clarify roles and accountabilities for key jobs; replace people where necessary; add performance metrics or incentives; and change the performance management or recruiting processes.

5. Communicate and celebrate. Culture change can be a long journey—and one that requires tireless leadership. Consistent, sustained communication of the required behaviors is critical. It’s important to celebrate victories—large and small—but never to declare victory outright.

A Culture That Wins

Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for implementing a well-defined culture. Every business has different business goals, and a company’s culture is very much dependent on these goals. However, there is one common principle that is constant across most businesses: striving to build a fact-based and data-driven culture.

For organizations that strive for business efficiency and well-informed decisions from the bottom up, a data-enabled workforce tends to be the first step towards a winning culture. Once a company’s business data is more readily available, business visibility improves and this drives your team to make more well-informed decisions.

“When people get interested in analytics and in the currency of information, it can change the culture,” says Hank Vermeulen, vice president of informatics for Independence Blue Cross. “But you have to be sure you have transparency. You can’t make analytics just for the club.” In order to democratize data – as described by Vermeulen –  and truly establish a fact-based culture, it’s critical that business data is made available to all members of the team. But keep your expectations in check. You can’t expect your team to become data scientists overnight. The process of integrating data into every day decisions can be a slow process. However, the goal is to make data available on an easy-to-use platform that encourages data curiosity. Ultimately this helps build a culture that thrives on accountability and greater business visibility.

Check back with us next week as we dive deeper into the topic of data-driven cultures, and look at some real world examples that expose the true costs of a data-deprived culture. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to the Askuity Blog and stay tuned for next week’s post.