When you visit successful companies or work within one, they all have a special feel to them. It is unique and very noticeable. One element that makes this take place, from my perspective, is that successful companies institutionalize their culture without bureaucratizing it.
Struggling companies always have a system of administration marked by bureaucracy and red tape. They lack flexibility and initiative due to excessive adherence to regulations. This is particularly visible in the behavior of those in management and leadership positions, and how they interact with key systems.
Patrick Lencioni in his delightful book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Jossey-Bass, 2012, writes “Human systems are tools for reinforcement of clarity. They give an organization a structure for tying its operations, culture, and management together, even when leaders aren’t around to remind people.” Lencioni notes that this level of clarity takes place when leaders engage in the following activities:
- creating collective focus and clarity through out the organization
- cascading clarity
- reinforcing clarity through human systems, i.e. performance management
- developing cultural consistency
As to performance management, he explains it this way: “Essentially performance management is the series of activities that ensures that managers provide employees with clarity about what is expected of them, as well as regular feedback about whether or not they are adequately meeting those expectations.”
From my vantage point as a consultant and executive coach, I observe that successful companies practice what they preach. They also constantly reinforce it on a day-to-day basis. For them, the brand promise is a set of core behaviors rather than just words. While we all recognize that the culture is the strategy in successful companies, the key is to not let the dark side of bureaucracy to slip in and take over, thus neutralizing the strategic advantage of a clear and focused culture.
In short, successful companies stay focused on their strategic nexus, the union of their mission, vision and values plus their strategic plan. This depth of clarity and attention allows them to handle the normal internal and external challenges that surface in any business day without having to resort to developing a bureaucracy that tramples creativity, commitment and effectiveness.