Are we focusing

by / Friday, 25 November 2016 / Published in Strategic Partnership

Are we focusing on the right things?

How often do you ask yourself this? 

Well if you are like most management it is too often, or worse not at all!  


Why is this:

–        My opinion is we are trying to change the wrong thing, change something that is an effect caused BY the business structure, business model, or lack thereof. The Culture. People see the resulting problem and accidently go to fix that result, not the cause. Culture is a result!


In commercial real estate our culture is largely a total mess. So what is the answer, FIX THE BUSINESS MODEL.


When the April 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review arrived in the mail, the headline across the front cover, in bright orange type, resonated with me: “You Can’t Fix Culture”.   It hit my funny bone; this is a message I have been preaching for years. Focus on your business, not its culture, and the rest will follow.  Yes it is true, when the culture is negative, or counterproductive it is an indicator you have some work to do. That said Culture isn’t something to be “fixed”. Rather, if you focus on business fundamentals, the cultural change necessary for success will follow. In short, culture is the effect, not the cause, of business performance.

This is a hard–learned lesson. I am both amused and bewildered by the number of business leaders who, emboldened by a plethora of books and articles focusing on changing organizational culture, cling to the notion of “culture as the cause and the cure”, as the authors of the HBR article so eloquently state.


Several years ago a large, multinational firm was in the process of acquiring a closely-held, South American business with a strong “command and control” culture. The acquiring company had hired my firm to help them determine how best to assimilate this closely-held business into the parent organization, with its meritocratic, empowering culture.

If we had focused first on trying to change the culture of the acquired business we probably still would be trying to accomplish the impossible, just as calls by pundits to “fix” the culture of organizations as far-reaching as General Motors and the Department of Veterans Affairs have fallen flat. That approach just doesn’t work. It never has.


What can you do:

My opinion is look at focus on fixing your business, FIX it focused on different indicators than you have in the past. Focus on

–          what is sustainable,

–          what creates a validated and productive work force,

–          what will make your people happy, truly happy that they work where they are at?


Try this, focuse on business fundamentals, following a process that is best described as shown here:


Culture is the embodiment of the collective mindsets and behaviors of the organization’s members, driven by its leaders through the setting of goals and expectations, the establishment of metrics and decision rights, and the way in which the organization’s members are held accountable and rewarded, or not, for their actions. It is only through focusing on the fundamental drivers of culture, not on culture itself, that organizational change occurs.

By focusing on these fundamentals, instead of trying to fix the company’s culture, we were able to help our client achieve their objective of successfully assimilating the acquired business, with a long history of top-down control, into their transparent, empowering and meritocratic organization.

And we did it, by the way, one business unit, one group, one person at a time, helping each individual understand, through front-line empowerment and the establishment of clear-cut goals, metrics, accountability and reward structures, why it was in their best interest to change.

This is the way to effect culture change in an organization, not the other way around.

Reference: Jay W. Lorsch and Emily McTague, “Culture Is Not The Culprit”, Harvard Business Review, April 2016

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