Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Culture – The Secret To Helping Align Organizational Goals

The following is a guest post by Dr. George H. Labovitz and Victor Rosansky.

There is much talk today about the need to constantly align and adapt strategy to constantly changing market conditions to insure sustainable competitiveness. How can we get employees comfortable and even welcoming of this never-ending barrage of change?

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, told us that he wanted the mantra from every employees lips at every store to be, “If we’re not changing today, we are in trouble.” Imagine the impact of that mindset on your organization’s performance.

If people embrace and welcome change they can help drive rapid alignment of the organization’s resources for competitive success. Let’s look at what we mean by alignment and culture’s role in creating a resilient, adaptive, high performing organization.

Alignment is the state in which the key elements of an organization — its people, strategy, customers, and processes — work in concert to serve the primary purpose of the enterprise: increasing value for stakeholders. Whatever the enterprise or its goals, the degree to which those key elements are integrated and work in concert will determine how quickly and successfully it will fulfill its primary purpose.

Think of culture playing the role of greasing the skids making alignment to market conditions faster and smoother. Culture is the “magic sauce” that blends people’s beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviours into the capabilities necessary to create change and execute.

We know that people will readily embrace a new strategy or support an improvement initiative if it is consistent with their attitudes, beliefs and rewards. So just how important is culture in enabling the achievement of organizational performance?

Lou Gerstner captured the importance of culture as he reflected on his experience in transforming, or as he would say, “trying” to transform IBM from a hardware company to software consulting company. “I came to see, in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

It seems commonsense that when people see how the strategy will benefit their organization and in turn benefit them personally, they will support the strategy. So how can management insure that the organization’s culture is properly aligned with strategy?

We found over the years that culture change programs rarely work. Changing a culture takes considerable time — the consensus is that it often takes a minimum of ten years and/or involves major structural and personnel change. Programs that focus on changing beliefs, attitudes and values struggle because they are deeply ingrained in us.

Politicians have long learned that when someone makes up their mind to support a particular political party with its unique platform, it becomes almost impossible to change a party loyalist’s beliefs even when they are faced with disconfirming information.

While it may be unrealistic to try to profoundly change a culture overnight, it can be modified in important ways. This is accomplished by getting people to behave their way into changing attitudes and beliefs, not the other way around. So start by changing people’s behaviours.

First, identify strategic goals and the behaviours necessary to execute them. Next, train people in the new behaviours, have management model them, and provide feedback loops so that people can see how their behaviours get results. The more positive feedback people get, the more the behaviours get reinforced.

There is sound psychology that underlies this interesting and effective dynamic. Leon Festinger, the social psychologist, discovered that tension is caused when people find themselves engaged in behaviours that are making them successful yet running counter to their attitudes and beliefs. He labelled this tension, “cognitive dissonance.”

However, if people get positive reinforcement for the behaviours they typically continue with the successful behaviour. In order to reduce the cognitive dissonance between their behaviour and attitudes and beliefs, they change their attitudes and beliefs to be consistent with their behaviour.

And behaviour change happens faster when management models the desired behaviours. The essential feature in this dynamic is to provide employees with constant feedback. The more positive feedback people receive, the more the behaviours become self-sustaining. (If they don’t see the connection between behaviours and outcomes they will reduce their dissonance by stopping the behaviour in order to maintain their current beliefs and attitudes.)

This is an important part of the culture-change story but not the whole story. A culture needs to foster and support the new behaviours. This is where leaders and managers exercise their role as “cultural architects.” We discovered there are four lenses through which one can look at an organization’s culture to identify levers that can be pulled to shape the culture and support desired behaviours.

  1. Lens One helps identify the myths and stories that are told about what makes for success in the organization.
  2. Lens Two identifies the rituals and ceremonies that tell people what gets celebrated and valued.
  3. Lens Three sees the relationships that show how people’s connections to other people in the organization that connote importance.
  4. Lens Four analyzes the symbols in the organization that convey what is important.

By analyzing and managing these areas, a culture can be strengthened and itself aligned with key behaviours that will engage and motivate employees to deploy the strategy.

Summary tips for rapid alignment of culture with strategy:

  1. Identify and focus on behaviours that will lead directly to desired outcomes.
  2. Make outcomes observable and measurable.
  3. Model new behaviours to employees.
  4. Realign your reward systems with desired behaviours and cultural attributes.
  5. Ensure people see a clear connection between their new behaviours and desired results.
  6. Communicate organizational values keeping people focused on the “main thing” of their strategy.

Things to do:

  • Select a strategic goal.
  • Determine which behaviours are necessary to achieve that goal.
  • Identify cultural attributes that will foster those behaviours such as stories, relationships, rituals and ceremonies that help guide behaviour.
  • Get managers to model and promote key behaviours.

By implementing these steps, leaders can ensure that the actions of their employees help to support their strategy by aligning their behaviours with the organization’s culture and goals.

Dr. George H. Labovitz, is the founder and CEO of ODI, an international management training and consulting company, and professor of management and organizational behaviour at the Boston University Graduate School of Management.  Victor Rosansky is the co-founder and president of LHR International, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience as a consultant, helping Fortune 500 clients to drive rapid strategy deployment and alignment.

Together, they’ve co-authored their second book, “Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance”. To learn more about their book visit their website at www.rapidrealignment.com.

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  1. On September 26th, 2012 at 6:19 PM Tigran said:

    Hi Tanveer,
    Nice post! Attitudes are the hardest thing to change and it seems like the cognitive dissonance reduction mechanism is one of the rare possible ways to do it.

    I used Festinger’s concept in one of my interventions in 2004. It was the only possible processes in the given organizational context to get employees change their negative attitudes toward employer and his new strategy to involve them in organizational goals. I proposed a strategy to get employees adopt desirable behaviors and to sustain them (by reinforcement) for enough time to get attitude changed.
    However, the hardest part was to develop line managers’ leadership skills (communication, feedback, ability to give support) to involve employees in new behavior and sustain it.

  2. On September 29th, 2012 at 1:31 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Tigran; I'm glad you enjoyed it. Also appreciate your sharing your experiences on how to adapt/change behaviours to mirror organizational developments.

  3. On September 29th, 2012 at 2:10 PM bxljenny said:

    Culture is truly what makes organizations different from each other!

  4. On October 2nd, 2012 at 11:28 AM Keith Punches said:

    I used to think ABC was "always be closing". Now at 43 I know it means "always be changing". GREAT post Tanveer.

  5. On October 2nd, 2012 at 1:49 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Keith; glad you enjoyed it.

  6. On June 25th, 2013 at 10:04 PM Annette Mason said:

    Still getting value out of this post. Thank you very much!

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