Of all the ‘limbs’, ‘organs’ and ‘life support systems’ on our organisational anatomy chart introduced in Lesson 4 probably the most important, from a human perspective, is culture. This is shown as an overlapping circle but one could easily draw the circle around the whole framework because it influences every aspect of it.
Most human beings understand this intuitively because our evolutionary, survival instinct ensures we manage to survive in whatever cultural environment we find ourselves. We quickly learn what we can and cannot say aloud, we adapt our behaviour to the norms that are imposed or acknowledged through peer pressure and many other cultural influences. In a blame culture we avoid taking risks, in an empowered culture we are allowed to make decisions and in an apathetic culture – well, who cares?
We also know that once a culture is established it is the most difficult thing on earth to change for the better because we just get used to where we ‘live’. Any attempt to change it can often be bloody and brutal and the first one to go is the CEO. So one role of the evidence-based, strategic HR director is to gather evidence to support the most appropriate culture for the organisation to thrive.
Using evidence to articulate and influence how culture affects the business.
In an ideal world company culture will not change much if there is a good succession plan in place and the values of the organisation are shared and constantly reinforced. However, as culture is affected by whoever is at the top, and evidence tells us that the average tenure of a FTSE 100 CEO is less than 5 years, we must expect established cultures to be dented and disrupted on a regular basis.
In Lesson 8 we cited Starbucks’ Mission statement so when an interview with its CEO and driving force, Howard Schultz, appeared in last week’s Sunday Times it seemed a perfect opportunity to follow through to a consideration of its culture and Schultz’s new book “Onward – How Starbucks fought for its life without losing its soul” which came out in April.
Apparently Schultz, 57, “rises at 4 am every day”, arrives at work at 6.15 am, after squeezing in a workout in the gym and says “I don’t stop till I go to bed”. He also likes riding racing bicycles, averaging 30 miles a time.
Now, I like a nice cup of coffee as much as the next person, and I even ride my bike occasionally, but the amateur psychologist in me thinks Howard might be just, what should we say, a mite obsessive compulsive? This is not a criticism, just a professional observation and part meditation on how driven some CEO’s are. It is a well-known fact of life that the runaway success of many organisations is often down to the brilliant but abnormal behaviour of the CEO – let’s not mention any obvious names – especially if they founded the company as well.
Don’t get me wrong, this is great if you really want to go places but in its wake it has a tendency to leave an organisation addicted to one, limited style of management. This is what appears to have happened at Starbucks. When Howard stepped down as CEO the business lost direction and started to slide – the share price plummeted from $39 to $7 – so he ousted the replacement CEO in order to take back the reins.
You could say – well that’s life at the top. Yes, but who was advising Howard? Did nobody point out to him the effect his behaviour was having before he stopped being CEO? There is plenty of evidence that many baristas at Starbucks think it is a great place to work but the malaise that affected the organisation went much deeper, right into the muscle. It was not a culture for producing a self-supporting and reinforcing organism.
Admittedly Schultz has now got the business back on track (but see how its doing in the UK) – and a very ambitious growth track at that – but is anyone offering him wise counsel on how not to make the same mistake again? Is anyone unearthing evidence today that his management style, and the culture it breeds, will still not sustain Starbucks in his absence? Has anyone managed to explain to him that a personality cult is not the same as a sustainable culture? Do you think if we all sent him a simple message – ‘hey Howard, wake up and smell your coffee, if you fall under a bus your business is sunk’ – we might just get this point across?
Coincidentally, on the reverse side of the Schultz interview is an assessment of Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer’s acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion, with an unattributed quote that
“He has been a great steward of Windows but he hasn’t done much else“.
Now there’s an interesting case study in monopolistically-obsessive behaviour, culture and business performance just waiting to be written.