David Jimenez, Senior Partner, CEO Advisory Network
We’ve all heard the phrase “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” I’ve learned this isn’t always true. In fact, the right culture will cook up a healthy serving of strategy and will ensure no one leaves the table unsatisfied. My years as a healthcare CEO taught me one thing: The wrong culture eats strategy for lunch.
So how do you change it? It takes patience, it takes perseverance, and most importantly it takes true leadership.
If you’re facing the time-honored tradition of having trouble getting your strategy off the ground, you have to first understand why.
Curbing the culture appetite:
Lesson #1: Employees are devoted to the culture they create: No matter how much your people agree with a strategy, when push comes to shove, bad culture will take a bite out of strategy every time. Strategy takes time to work – it’s full of ups and downs and often appears to take one step back before actually pushing an organization forward. The first step in making sure that strategy survives bad culture lies with your leadership. If you’ve inherited a team or are trying to jump start change don’t start with strategy, start with culture. Once your employees are loyal to you and not to the culture, they’ll lean in wholeheartedly to the strategy.
Lesson #2: Feed the right kind of culture: Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Mr. Ford couldn’t have been more right. So many people underestimate the power of leadership when it comes to bringing teams together and uniting them around a common purpose. So how do you do it? It really isn’t that difficult, but it does take courage. First, you must be clear about the direction of the organization, you must empower others to take on new challenges and reward them for their successes, while supporting them through their failures. Each time I joined a new team as a CEO I spent my time assessing the culture of the leadership team – after all, it really does “start at the top.” Determine who the formal and informal leaders are on your broader team – empower them with new and exciting opportunities – especially if it means pushing them outside of their comfort zones. Next identify the influential leaders (the good ones and the bad ones); rinse and repeat. You might even have to invite a few of them to move along, especially those influential leaders who keep the old culture simmering on the stove day-in and day-out. Here’s the most important part of lesson #2: That which can kill an organization can actually save it when nurtured the right way.
Lesson #3: Culture should be a significant part of your strategy: I’m always amazed when I look at an organization’s strategic plan and see nothing about the culture it’s trying to create or maintain. No wonder “bad culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture isn’t something separate from strategy – it’s a core component of it! When you build the right strategy, inclusive of the right culture, you can move mountains. Let’s face it, tough times happen in every organization, when leaders work diligently to build the right culture, they can truly unite people when it comes to facing challenges. Think about companies where employees step up during difficult times to take a pay cut just to avoid layoffs. I once knew of a health system that had such a healthy culture that when the organization laid off 900 employees in one week it resulted in dozens of letters from impacted employees to the system CEO thanking her for how she handled the elimination of their jobs. One employee even acknowledged how difficult the decision to conduct a reduction in workforce must have been for the CEO. Now that’s a healthy culture!
What’s more, the right culture gives you a competitive edge in today’s workforce. Let’s face it, we’re all struggling to find the highest level of talent and to attract the right patients to help improve our bottom line. For the most part, we all provide basically the same healthcare services, but we don’t all deliver those services the same way. When we create the right culture, employees are more engaged, happier and ultimately exude the organization’s culture when interacting with customers – that’s what can ultimately set you apart from your competitors in today’s world.
At CEO Advisory Network our team of proven c-suite leaders are adept at working hand-in-hand with our clients to not only help them navigate challenging financial, operational and clinical hurdles, but equally as important, we are astute when it comes to shaping culture in a way that leaves teams hungry for more. I encourage you to learn more for yourself by visiting ceoadvisorynetwork.com or email me at David.firstname.lastname@example.org.