I was with a Partner in a law firm in London last week. We'd met before and she had suggested we meet in London to see if our approach to leadership development might have value for them. This is a big Firm, with lots of incredibly talented and experienced lawyers, and a vital Team of support Staff too.
The inevitable question directed to me:
'What do you really do?' A simple, effective and challenging question!
'Culture. We help businesses develop the correct culture'.
Another question for me:
'What do you think is the right type of culture?' Inevitably I responded with a question of my own:
'What do you think is the right culture for you' I asked.
The Partner then clearly articulated all of the traits of a great culture. Staff buy in, empowerment, constant learning, open challenge etc.
My next question:
'On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is perfect, how would you describe the culture currently?'
If you don't mind, I'm not going to share her numerical response. Let's just say that it wasn't a 10 or even a 9. The response mean there was room for improvement.
Now this is all good stuff, the slight issue is that the analysis of the culture is this one person's perception and while it might be accurate, the obvious risk is that it is inaccurate.
So what I have learnt from serving with an elite military unit and working with International Rugby and Football players:
1. Some Teams recognise the value of culture and devote time to developing culture - most organisations don't. They don't believe that the right culture hugely impacts the bottom line, as does the wrong culture
2. Military/sportspeople tend to be very objective in their analysis - finding the good and the not so good. Many organisations don't want to hear about the not so good
3. If you're going to change the culture, your leaders are going to have to lead it. Too many 'leaders' in business aren't really leaders. They are accomplished practitioners who have been given Team responsibility. In many cases they don't relish that leadership responsibility so they do the minimum, or the things they like
4. You can learn to lead, but it takes time. You will have to prioritise away from the things you like doing and are good at. You'll need to develop a capability that involves spending lots of time with occasionally difficult people. Most people don't like this and they avoid what they don't like.
There are other lessons but the short answer is that if you're going to build a culture, you need to know what type of culture you have now. You also need people who have the desire and ability to enable the change in culture. Desire/ability.
It starts with desire, but you have to be able too.