Tuesday, October 30, 2007


One of my favorite quotes is this gem from the book: "Who says elephants can't dance" by Louis Gertsner, who led the turn-around at IBM:
"I came to see in my time at IBM that ‘culture’ isn’t just one aspect of the game - it is the game."
Just like communities, companies tend to develop a culture over time. Certain practices are encouraged, others are frowned upon, while still others are considered off-limits. How people relate to each other, how they help towards common goals, how aggressively they pursue their targets are all influenced in various ways by this culture.

This is a potent weapon.

In this age of knowledge workers, where it is so hard to actually monitor anyone's work beyond a point, or to set up foolproof unambiguous KPIs, culture becomes a powerful force that can lead people to make choices which are in the common interest of the company.

Leaders differ tremendously in their ability to influence culture positively. But just like setting formal targets and managing the numbers, they need to take this on as a formal role - taking every opportunity to shape and define the culture of their organization.

And just like in other social contexts, the best way to influence culture is by example. If you want a culture of service, be sure to visit a lot of customers and make it a point to followup. If you are looking for a culture of low cost, be like the IKEA chairman Ingvar Kampard who "avoids wearing suits, flies economy class and frequents cheap restaurants" because his brand is about a low frills model where all the economies and savings are passed on to the customer. No wonder IKEA has the best value for money proposition in the furniture business.

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