An Ode to Action

Coode Associates blog

Being in business right now is a complex gig. Times are tight, restructures are all the rage. After multiple years of trying to guess and navigate what’s coming next people aren’t so much change fatigued as ‘change flippin’ knackered’. And that’s all whilst leaders furiously try to keep up with the level of communication and context that’s required. First things first – PHEW – let’s all take a deep breath, we’re certainly earning our keep.

At times like these, it can be tempting to put the brakes on anything that isn’t perceived to have an immediate impact on the bottom line and, for many, people and culture change-related efforts are first against the wall. After all, culture transformation takes time, is often poorly measured (so feels a bit soft and fluffy) and requires sustained leadership focus and commitment – all of which can feel in short supply at times like these.

When times are tricky, scaling back a focus on culture transformation may feel understandable but is perhaps a false economy…

I know what you’re thinking – “you’re bound to say that Louise, it’s in your business’ interests for culture to remain high on the agenda” – and you’d be right, I have a business to grow and a mortgage to pay, but feel free to show me a LinkedIn post that’s entirely altruistic and I’ll happily eat my hat.

But there’s more to it than that: the very reason most companies look to change their culture in the first place is to drive business performance, to thrive, to grow, to innovate*.  With many out there facing some frankly existential challenges, now is not the time to wait until things are calmer to refocus on your culture. In fact, tending to your culture is how you will survive. Now, is the time for action.

After all, the things that get in the way of successful execution, of delighting your customers, of landing change initiatives, of strategic pivots – all the things that determine your success and survival as a business – they only owe so much to the quality of thinking that went into them. The determining factor of success is how people behave – how the work gets done, the everyday human interactions. If that sounds like something you can put on ice until things are calmer then I would argue that you do so at your peril.

It would be naive not to recognise that time and attention is at a premium (in life, and with this blog so I’ll move things on), so whilst I build a case for action, know that it’s not at any cost – instead I’m really building a case for focus.

Where the winners are spending their time:

Because it’s far from doom and gloom out there, and the savviest organisations are taking a laser focus to their cultural change efforts and thriving. So where are they spending their time? Here’s my top 3:

#1 Focus on change from the top

If your leadership team aren’t up for personal change themselves, then you might as well not both starting. Honestly,  I’ve tried many a time– it doesn’t work! For cultural change efforts to succeed, you need a leadership team that’s honest enough to recognise that the culture starts with them. If they want people to do things differently, they’ll need to look in the mirror first. The CEOs and leadership teams we work with who are open to personal change and increased alignment, and recognise it starts with them –  they’re the ones to watch.

#2 Share stories that take people with you

Now more than ever, a clear and consistent strategic narrative is essential – it’s the only way to make it through change. Your people need to be clear about where you’re going and why, and leaders need to be equipped to bring this to life in an everyday way. Storytelling is not a skill many leaders are born with. It takes time and conscious focus to develop. And trust me when I say that this skill is even more important when you have bad news to share: it’s never easy but if you can provide decent context for why change is required, people will respect you for it.

#3 Measure your progress

Until you’ve found a way to meaningfully draw the link between your cultural change efforts and business performance, it will continue to remain a B-list topic. Measure where you’re starting, set your destination and track your progress. How else will you know where to focus? How not to scattergun your efforts (and waste time, money and energy on) your cultural change work?

In the spirit of staying focused, I’m going to leave it there for now. There are of course a great many other levers for change out there, and many organisations taking focused actions like these and reaping the rewards in the current climate. I’d love to hear where you’re focusing – why not get in touch and let me know? Or comment below so we can all benefit. Even if you wouldn’t normally… action is after all the word of the day.

*98% of leaders recognise the impact that culture has on business performance. Coode Culture Barometer 2023 – click here to read the report.

Author: Louise Myson, Partner


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Coode Associates supports and advises companies on leadership development, organisational effectiveness and alignment and shaping culture. If you’d like to know more about our work, we’d love to hear from you: info@coodeasssociates.com.

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