A metaphor is often used to explain something that is complex or misunderstood. Here is a useful metaphor to explain Culture. Culture is like the oil in a smooth running engine. If the oil is of the right viscosity, with no contamination, and operating at the right temperature; then it will flow well and your engine will run smoothly and perform as expected.
However, if your oil is full of contaminants, flowing sluggishly and not lubricating vital parts effectively, the result is less than optimum performance or worse a seized engine. If this scenario represents your organisational culture, you have a huge problem.
Organisations, like an engine, have many parts that must work together in perfect synergy. They must operate at optimum level for sustained high performance. This only happens if your culture is fully conducive. This takes time effort and commitment. Culture must be regularly assessed and priorities addressed. When this is done it’s very likely to result in sustained performance. A culture is not a ‘set and forget’ act. It needs to be frequently monitored to ensure proper function and action taken when required. Just like a car engine.
The problem is that many organisations do not take a regular ‘oil check’ (culture assessment). This means that their oil (culture) could well be contaminated and not able to achieve performance. Often this is realised too late, when things are in crisis. A case in point is the recent Royal Commission into the financial sector which revealed so many issues that perpetuated due to poor culture.
Often leaders don’t know their culture is lacking! There is no focus on culture until some corrupt behaviour or practice emerges and the whole organisation is exposed. Lately there have been so many examples of this; Volkswagen, Uber, Wells Fargo, United Airlines, Netflix, Australian Banks, AMP etc. All hell breaks loose and all the focus is on culture as the key cause of all the problems.
It doesn’t have to be like this. This dilemma can be avoided. Take a regular ‘oil check’ with a powerful and insightful culture assessment and armed with the data make the required change. Recent research is also very clear on this with global senior executives indicating a significant emphasis on culture change from 51% in 2013 to 80% in 2018. Credible research has also established the strong correlation between high scores on key culture factors and high performance. Another study said that 92% of global leaders agree that culture is key to high performance. Yet only15% indicated their culture was where it needs to be.
The evidence is clear. A high-performance culture is desirable and required for long term success. But this is can only be achieved with a commitment to focus on culture.
Just as we check the oil in our car’s engine regularly to ensure optimum performance, or face the consequences. We must do the same regular ‘check’ on the organisation’s culture. If not, it’s almost certain some crisis will emerge just as it has in so many cases.