Leaders will often ask me what they can do to accelerate a change in their culture. As someone who likes to find ways to provide simplicity on seemingly complex and theoretical topics, I’ve long been searching for that mythical ‘one thing’ that will make the most difference. I think I’ve found it. I’ll be interested to hear if you agree with me.
Simple has been one of my mantras. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there you can move mountains.
What Steve Jobs understood, that many others do not, is that it takes much more effort to achieve simplicity than it does to achieve complexity. Everything naturally expands towards the complex, unless very tightly driven the other way, and cultures are no different.
If you are reading this post we can assume you think culture is important. But investment in culture lags behind some of the other key contributors to performance: Brand, people, technology, process. So perhaps culture’s impact on performance is not universally believed. Executives have to focus first and foremost on those elements which will deliver the best return to their shareholders. There is a community of investment professionals who spend their lives considering company valuations and whose opinion holds considerable sway on share price.
Most leaders can describe the values of their organization, but fewer are successful at ‘walking that talk’. In fact, as communication increases about an organization’s values, there’s a greater risk that employees and customers will become cynical. Why? Because the gap between the ‘walk’ and ‘talk’ is always more visible than we think. As anyone involved in a culture change process will know, it takes time and effort to align these two.
So what are some of the quickest ways a leader can recognize that gap and take the responsibility required to do something about it?