The cultural environment in an organisation is the greatest determinant of performance
I was at the Murtala Mohamed Airport in Lagos on my way to the UK. As I waited on the queue for my turn, a policeman escorted someone right to the front of the queue. This happened three times before I made it to the front. A few hours later we were on another queue at London Heathrow and you can imagine my anger when standing behind me in very orderly fashion were the same people who could not stand in Lagos. What altered their behaviour in just a few hours?
I see people who have no regard for red traffic lights in Africa become very law abiding drivers in Europe. Conversely, I also see people who are very law abiding drivers in Europe totally throw caution to the winds in Africa.
If you ever doubted the impact of the environment over behaviour I hope you are beginning to see it with all our examples starting from the polar bear example that I shared last week.
Actually, we do not need to go very far. Nature itself has taught us and continues to do so every day. When I was growing up, stories about apples did not make sense to me because I grew up in tropical West Africa and apples do not grow in the tropics. Apples grow in cool climes and so even within the tropics, there are few pockets where apples can grow, but these are high altitude places which are very cold.
When I was young my father used to enjoy palm wine and we had a supplier who would bring it straight from the palm tree. Palm trees do not grow in cold places — at least not the kind of palm trees that produce palm wine or palm kernels used for palm oil.
Climate plays a major role in what can grow and what cannot.
The seed is the strategy and expectation you have of your team and your company. The culture is the climate. No matter how good your seed, if the climate is not right for that seed, it will not produce what you desire.
There is no good or bad climate in absolute terms. There are just conducive climates. The cultural environment in an organisation is the greatest determinant of performance in the organisation. Think of the number of African footballers who were struggling in Africa and became big once they got to Europe. They are not more talented in Europe. It was the environment.
A company may have the most intelligent minds in the world but without the right culture their intelligence will amount to nothing. What then is the right culture for an organisation? It is the culture that best enhances the goals and objectives of the organisation. Culture can never be a copy-and-paste thing. Many people see the culture in a place like Google and instinctively want to copy it. It doesn’t work that way.
Attempting to embark on a culture change programme without understanding the goals and objectives of the organisation is like going on a ship without a compass. Remember that the ultimate purpose of culture is not to check a box that a culture programme was done. It is to create the right environment for the goals and objectives of the organisation in every single area to be achieved in the most efficient manner.
Culture has two parts: the visible and the invisible. The visible has to do with the office plan, dress codes and the general day-to-day rituals of the team.
While this is good, we must never forget that the visible is always driven by the invisible and the invisible is driven by a belief system. What we believe ultimately determines what we do.
The task of the culture change expert is, therefore, to work on belief systems.
As a leader, what signs are you putting up for people to read? Can your culture deliver expectations for your organisation?
Do not fight behaviour. Fix Culture.