Tuesday 24 November 2009

More from the CIPD conference – developing a culture of…


Lousy T shirt   There were quite a few sessions at the conference about developing a culture of something, eg of:

  • Coaching (Jane Turner, Newcastle Business School)
  • High performance (David Smith, ex-ASDA)
  • Homogeneity in a global context (Mark Adams, Abbey / Santander)
  • Innovation (Jaideep Prabhu, University of Cambridge)
  • Integrity (Roger Steare, Cass Business School)
  • Leadership (Anete Jajkowska, Microsoft)
  • Resilience (Rebecca McIntosh and Claire Jelley, also at the University of Cambridge, but internal this time).


However, there wasn’t any linking between sessions these even thought the actions organisations need to take to develop each one of these cultures are largely the same thing!

Basically, there are two or three key steps:


1.    Decide what / how you want to be

Organisations can’t do everything, so the key question is which of the capabilities from the above list are most important for you?  Having a clear BHAG or mojo will make this easier for you.

Describe the required capability in detail – what behaviours and actions will you expect to see when this capability is in place?  This becomes what McIntosh and Jelley referred to as their North Star.

This is, of course, where things between each of the culture types are a bit different, and where some knowledge of the particular type of culture, and what attributes / behaviours support it, is required.

For a culture of innovation for example, Jaideep Prabhu suggests that organisations need three particular attitudes:

  • Future market focus
  • Willingness to cannibalise
  • Tolerance for risk.


Once these three things are in place, innovation should follow.

Actually, I think there’s probably a bit more too it than this ( read my post on Hal Gregersen’s presentation, and listen to the last Talking HR show where I discussed developing innovative cultures with MOK from the Innovation Beehive).


2.   Decide on the actions which are going to lead to the required attitudes (and them do them)

For innovation, Prabhu suggests the following:

  • Product champions
  • Asymmetric incentives
  • Internal markets.


Once again, I think it’s a little more complicated that this!  In fact, it’s the actions Prabhu doesn’t mention, that are common to the development of all these different types of culture that are the most important.

So, what are these?


Hard issues

Well, there are a few ‘hard’ issues, such as getting your ducks in a row, ie linking all of your HR and management activities to the required capability, and then monitoring these activities (see Microsoft’s system model, and people scorecard):





You might even want to produce a few T-shirts?


Soft issues

But the soft areas are the harder ones (if you see what I mean).

David Smith did a good job of describing some of these in connection with ASDA’s journey:

  • Hire for attitude
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Listening
  • Engaging style of management and leadership
  • Remove your underperfomers, push your talent
  • Recognition
  • Fun / buzz and a sense of community.


But I think Roger Steare captured what’s at the heart of changing these soft issues even more accurately.  For him, good behaviour and culture is when:

  • People stop and think
  • People talk about shared values
  • People unite around a common purpose
  • People act fairly for the common good.


Out of these, it’s talking (- particularly about what’s important - see Emmanuel Gobillot’s ‘narratives’) which is at the hear of culture change.  There was a good post on this in Harvard Business / Peter Bregman’s blog How We Work, this Summer.  This put culture change down to the way we tell stories:

"You change a culture with stories. Right now your stories are about how hard you work people. Like the woman you forced to work on her wedding day. You may not be proud of it, but it's the story you tell. That story conveys your culture simply and reliably. And I'm certain you're not the only one who tells it. You can be sure the bride tells it. And all her friends. If you want to change the culture, you have to change the stories.

I told him not to change the performance review system, the rewards packages, the training programs. Don't change anything. Not yet anyway. For now, just change the stories. For a while there will be a disconnect between the new stories and the entrenched systems promoting the old culture. And that disconnect will create tension. Tension that can be harnessed to create mechanisms to support the new stories.”


It emphasises, I think, that much of what we mean when we talk about culture change is actually social capital (which I define as the value of the connections, relationships and conversations taking place between people in an organisation).

And which brings us straight back to the importance of Connectivity again!





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  1. Relationships and Connectivity

    * The lowest common denominator in the themes you listed at the start?

    * A call to a possible consensus for practicinoers looking to the future and to add greater value?

    * The best opportunity for HR to leverage technology to change the economics and processes that define the function?

    * The start of something new?

  2. Possibly all of those Bruce - I'm not quite sure, but it just seems to fit in here to me. Thanks for your comment!


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