FAMILY, HONESTY MANNERS – WHEN CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST

So what happens when you have a great product or service but your team lets you down with poor behaviour? This weekend the Australian cricket team, currently ranked third in the world and a consistent top performer, showed us all how a highly talented team can fall apart at the seams when it loses sight of its values.

Darren Lehmann is on record for saying that the team has three core values – family, honesty and manners. Well here’s the rub: you have to live them too, and living them starts with the leadership team (whoever they may be). Commentators are already suggesting that the rot goes deeper than the on-field leadership group. They’re also suggesting that frequently poor manners (behaviour) should have been seen as a warning that something worse could happen.

I’m not sure who first suggested that culture is what happens when no one is looking but this time someone was looking and it wasn’t pretty. What happened also supports Peter Drucker’s observation that culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Real attention to developing a positive culture is too often neglected in businesses, – any business be it private, government, not for profit and, yes, sport. Perhaps this is because it requires real thought, real attention and real commitment. Sometimes chasing the next sale or the next win just seems more important.

It’s a widely held belief that a positive culture can take years to develop but I don’t think this is completely true. About five months ago I worked with a client’s management team to identify opportunities for them to drive improved business performance. We used this business’ values to identify examples of positive and negative behaviour and in doing so recognised that it was not just the staff but management that were sometimes behaving poorly.

Armed with this new awareness the management team started to mention values in their discussions about operational performance and at team meetings. As the managers walked the talk the message quickly started getting through. Five months later there has been a definite turnaround in both performance and morale, but no change in strategy. The strategy was OK, it was always achievable, its just that the culture wasn’t conducive to getting the desired results.

For the first time in many months the business has exceeded certain KPIs and the morale of management and staff has improved. Its still early days but this is a great outcome and it boils down to this: When leadership drives values, values drive behaviour, which drives culture, which drives performance. Its pretty simple really, but here’s the thing. It has to start with leadership, right from the top.

Perhaps Cricket Australia should conduct some navel gazing to identify where leadership starts and who should ultimately be accountable for walking the talk. Coming to think of it, that’s probably not a bad idea for any of us who own a business. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

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