Operationalising culture

It’s important to think and talk about your values – to know what’s important to you, why you do what you do, and how you want people in your team to relate to each other and to the work you do.

Then you have to live out these values – apply and embody them, demonstrate their importance and their worth, put your will behind your words. This can be hard, but it’s not that hard unless you’re under the kind of pressure that means your values cost you something: crisis reveals character. The habits of mind and behaviour that you’ve established when things are easy will act as a kind of emotional and moral muscle memory, helping or hindering, when things get hard.

It’s much harder, though, to creating an organisation where your best values are consistently applied and upheld:

  • You say you want to help people learn and grow – you may even have plans to help them do it – but do the right things actually happen as a result of those plans, so that people are getting better at their jobs?
  • You say you want to budget well and manage money responsibly – but do useful plans get made and even vaguely stuck to – and is someone checking where the money’s going, and how fast?
  • You say you want clarity of thought and communication – but have you trained your team about what that means? Do they know what their jobs are, and what success means for someone in their role?
  • You say you want to incentivise hard work and good work – but are the right people getting praised and promoted?

It’s hard to get any one of these organisational sub-systems to operate consistently and well. If you’re trying to do them all at once and on your own you’re bound to fail at most of them.

Focus on what’s important. Whenever possible, hire skilled specialists who share your values and vision – specialists who understand what you want to do, the manner in which you wish to do it (let’s call it your style) and how to actually make it happen day in, day out. This is how you operationalise your culture.

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