Essential Drucker states that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Some people would rather not believe that and focus on strategy anyway as a means of behavior change. It can be, in a rather top-down, Soviet-style form of strategy, stating, you will do this. Putin says so. Strategy, though, is simply a new way of doing things, perhaps the same things in a different fashion. The objectives are usually the same. How we go about achieving them and getting there is the difference. Culture comprises the current language and behaviors of a group of people. It is the Zeitgeist of the organization, the collective feeling or the way of things. In order to truly change people, you have to focus on shaping culture. The way we communicate shapes our culture.
Think about the acronyms people in your company use multiple times per day. If you’re in IT, you likely hear these: VoiP, VPN, IBM, SAAS, iOS, and so forth. Most people will get the meaning of these because they’re a part of the shared language, the vernacular used on a daily basis. You have your own acronyms and terms people in your company use that people outside the company would have no clue as to their meaning. You have your own shared language and that language shapes your culture. If you seek to effect change within your company, you start with reshaping the language used within your culture.
The leaders hid behind their manipulated data and their posturing and their $5,000 suits.
Let’s go back to when Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford Motor Corp. Alan had to re-shape the way his lieutenants treated and spoke with one another. He had to reshape their language and set a new emotional tone for his leadership team. At the time, Ford’s culture was toxic and back-stabbing. All anybody was really concerned about was looking good in front of others, and people would throw their colleague under the bus if it made their division look good. Alan brought in his leadership lessons from his decades at Boeing and saw right away that he needed to instill structure and discipline into Ford, two key features its executive team lacked. Due to such massive, widespread lying and misinformation, Alan had to demand honesty in the way the executives spoke at the Business Plan Review meetings each Thursday. He not only demanded it, he encouraged it, he embodied it. And when an executive finally showed some negative news about his division, Alan praised him for doing so. Back then at Ford, showing negative data about your division was thought to be a death sentence. Nobody wanted to do it. Nobody did it. Instead, the leaders hid behind their manipulated data and their posturing and their $5,000 suits. Alan instilled in his lieutenants that it was not only OK to show negative data, it was necessary in order to determine the health of the entire company. Honesty became the only way. Alan knew honesty and shaping communication was key to raising Ford from the ashes. He also knew reshaping communication was key in evolving Ford’s horrible culture. Since time was short, Alan also had to focus on a simple strategy of revitalizing Ford while he molded its culture. He was savvy — he knew Essential Drucker. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
It is hard to overemphasize how much influence executives have on culture within the organization. An overpowering, imperial CEO can wreck a business culture. Twelve executive lieutenants can rather easily create and foster a toxic culture, yes, even unwittingly. A thoughtful, driven, and supremely smart CEO like Alan Mulally can revive a flatlining entity like Ford, even with the sky falling all around them and their competitors. The cliche rings true: one man can make a difference. Without Mulally’s leadership, Ford wouldn’t be here today. An American manufacturing marvel for the past 100 years would have melted down to ashes of its own manipulative making.
Communication shapes culture at home, too. Each family has their own culture, their own Zeitgeist, their own way of talking and going about things. The way we treat and talk with one another creates and shapes our home culture. As the leader of a household, it is up to you to decide what kind of home culture you desire to create. Your decision and your followup statements and behaviors affect everyone in your household to a great degree. The emotional tone and energy starts with you and filters down to everyone else. Household discipline begins with you and is modeled by you. It cannot be, “Do as I say, not as I do.” You have to live it. You have to embody it. You have to be it, for if you cannot be it, how can you expect that of others, especially of those closest to you?
Leadership hypocrisy is toxic to a culture. In fact, it creates a toxic culture. “Do as I say, not as I do,” causes snarky, negative feelings in those led. If our leaders cannot (or choose not to) embody the ideals of which they speak, they’re hypocrites. Why should anyone else rise to heightened levels of behavior when the leaders won’t do this themselves? Why would anyone make sacrifices when the leaders won’t sacrifice anything?