The culture of your organisation will determine its success. It’s the environment that you create that is either supporting your vision, mission, goals, and purpose or it’s the environment that you are fighting against while pursuing these.
We all know this from a social perspective: if your child hangs around with good kids, your he or she will probably become a good kid; if your child hangs around with bad kids, it’s time to change who they mix with and encourage a better environment and culture.
The culture of your organisation is the context in which everything you are looking to achieve takes place. Context can be thought of as a great cup of tea. The cup that holds the tea is the context while the tea itself is the content.
Similarly in your organisation, the culture would be the cup and your goals, tasks, activities, objectives would be the tea.
The cup or context that holds the content is critical. It is what allows the content to be delivered effectively. If the context is broken, no matter how great the content is, it does not get delivered effectively. Imagine we searched the globe and found the best cup of tea on the planet for you to drink.
The content would be brilliant, but if the context/cup is broken, it is not delivered. If the cup had a crack in the bottom and the tea leaked all over the floor, it’s not the best cup of tea anymore.
Would you get down and lick it up? Or if the context wasn’t broken, just tarnished, the content is also ruined. For instance, the last person to wash the cup left some soap film on the inside. Again, the content is ruined.
We tend to spend the majority of time “putting out fires” on an operational level, but do we take the time to consider the source of the issues. Very often we have recurring content issues that we keep trying to address and they keep happening.
This is due to trying to fix a context issue as a content issue. It does not work. As an example, the CIO of a large media company was convinced his staff needed to develop their talent in the area of client service interactions.
After meeting with his team, it was clear that although they could improve those skills, it would not make a difference. It was not a content issue of client interaction skills that needed to be addressed, but rather a context/cultural issue that his team had lost sight of “who their clients were” and what they represented. The solution was to address transformation of the culture before upskilling the interaction skills.
In working with a wide variety of leadership teams, we’ve found that there are 6 mind-set changes that allow for culture transformation:
1. Force yourself to plan and think of the big picture
Effective leadership during transformation begins with the ability to create a new future and then show your team how you are going to get there. A strategy should be based on a set of clear and finite priorities, formed by what’s most important to the client (internal and external), and aligned with the overall business strategy.
2. Adopt a proactive approach
Think of this like the law of cause and effect. Your mindset should be from the perspective of cause. If you think from this perspective, you will be thinking from a place of impact and how you can make a difference. If you think from the perspective of effect, you become a bystander and are helpless to make any difference.
3. Don’t delve into tactics
Even if you are a techie at heart, don’t jump in and fight the fires – even if you think you can do it better than anyone else. It’s not your job as an IT leader to react to short-term situations; you need to be strategising about the future. If you don’t do it, who else will?
4. Be candid with yourself and others
Have the courage to be candid. Don’t avoid conflict – it can be good; it can lead to innovation and creativity that would not happen if we all had the same point of view. It is critical that emotions are kept out and it is not taken personally or becomes personal.
Also, be candid about your own skills and weaknesses, by knowing your gaps. You can fill those gaps with team members who have them as strengths.
5. Prepare for and embrace change
Our one constant is change. As an IT leader, if you resist change or fail to see it coming, it can have a significantly negative impact on your organisation and not to mention your career.
6. Develop a relationship strategy
Success depends on your relationship with clients, peers, and staff. Effective leaders get out of their office and away from their computer and work on developing relationships.
Frequent talks with your important relationships will allow you to anticipate what’s coming, develop an understanding of its impact, and gain the trust of the people whose support you need to create the new culture and future of your organisation.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of “Unleashing The Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together”, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. He is also a professional development specialist at DDLS.