Culture is a hot topic.
Every leader talks about it. But very few are successful at building one that is distinctive and long-lasting.
This is a problem. For most companies, the only real differentiator is the productivity of the people who work there.
Culture makes the biggest difference to productivity.
It’s the intangible that defines what people feel and how they behave. It’s what dictates how much of themselves people are willing to give.
Yet it’s the least understood and almost definitely the least professionally managed part of any business activity.
In most companies culture is left to develop by itself. And like a garden without a gardener it takes on its own shape and form.
This is risky.
Left to its own: you still have a culture. But it may not be the one that you want!
These thoughts were on my mind as I began reading Satya Nadella’s excellent book, Hit Refresh.
In 2014 he became only the 3rd CEO in Microsofts 40 year history. In the beginning, Microsoft was a speedboat. A lean competition machine that was at one time the world’s most valuable company.
Over time it lost its mojo. When Nadella took over many believe the company was sliding towards irrelevance.
Its competitors had gone mobile and were using the cloud for most of their software. Microsoft had failed in every new thing it tried.
Insiders described the culture as toxic. Fiefdoms and power struggles were the order of the day. Mastering the political game was the way to get ahead. The company had turned in upon itself and away from the customer.
Nadella had a massive turnaround on his hands. His job was to get this huge organisation of 120 000 people sprinting in the right direction.
Where did he start? Where would you start?
In Nadella’s words, “I put the company’s culture at the top of our agenda. We need to rediscover the soul of Microsoft, our reason for being. My primary job is to curate our culture so that 100 000 inspired minds – Microsoft employees – can better shape our future.”
He started by converting the intangible into future success for the company.
A new purpose andvision came into being.
To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve moreand to thrive in a mobile and cloud-first world.
This challenged them to leap out of their comfort zone and to start winning in new areas. It led to a resurgence of innovation and new partnerships with old enemies.
Then they developed a clear connection between their mission and the culture. They sought to build a culture of leadership that encourages people to take risks and inspire innovation.
The growth mindset became an anchor.
As Nadella says; “we had to go from being know-it-alls to learn-it-alls. To not to have to put on an act of knowing everything, but to be curious and learn”.
They also got specific about what culture they wanted. To establish a growth-mindset in 3 distinct ways: To obsess about our customers, to actively seek diversity and inclusion and to act as 1 company.
And then the 3rd big anchor was Leadership – the right people on the bus at the top to lead the culture.
He built a team at the top of one mind on mission, strategy, and culture. A team whose actions declared what kind of behaviour was no longer required. Leaders who would model the change.
As they progressed they had to pay special attention to the middle managers.
This group went backwards initially.
As in every large organisation, the ‘middles’ are sandwiched between the top and the front line. They experience unique pressures that are often ignored or underappreciated. They required special tools and support to make the transition.
Fast-forward to today, 2019 and Microsoft is back!
They were a company frozen in time. Now they are leaders in the new era of artificially intelligent cloud computing. Some even describe them as a cooler company than Apple.
I found the story engrossing and fascinating.
Being intentional and resolute about your culture is not a nice to have.
Nor is it to be delegated or delayed. It must get deliberate attention.
The wise executive knows that culture – that which shapes and forms the way people think, feel and behave – is the real work in an organisation.
Satya Nadella knew this. He chose to harness the power of this intangible force when he started out as CEO. It has produced rich rewards.
What about your organisation? Are you being deliberate about your culture? Is it getting the attention it deserves?
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