Culture: The ignored piece in the transformation puzzle

The future belongs to firms that pay attention to their culture as much as their business strategy

Updated: Sep 25, 2017 09:16:10 AM UTC
Photo: Shutterstock

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, the phrase coined by management guru Peter Drucker is a reality – long acknowledged and yet, largely ignored. Winds of disruption continue to transform businesses across the world and the technology landscape in India is not insulated against these changing times. This has naturally resulted in a humongous amount of coverage and insights around companies revisiting their strategies. But how many companies are actually talking about the need to evaluate and transform their culture too? Honestly, a minuscule minority. That brings me to the core point: Businesses should focus as much, if not more, on bringing cultural changes rather than only changing strategy.

We have reached a point where the culture and practices that scripted India’s IT success story need a 180-degree switch for the road ahead. To achieve that, organisations need to revamp the structure of their corporate DNA. Here are a few areas worth paying attention to:

Taking the Leap of Faith Gone are the days when IT thrived on a culture of conforming and managed to achieve scale by creating repeatable processes. Considering the massive size of projects and the standard approach of making it all in one go, the cost of failure was exorbitant. In this era of constant change, companies need to foster a culture of experimentation and risk-taking. Today, brands need to keep exploring innovative and game-changing solutions, and realise that they will keep changing and evolving along the way. Experiment, take risks and fail fast – that’s the approach they need to adopt.

Learning Never Ends
The sow-once-reap-forever approach to learning is passé. Today, it’s simply not enough to learn once and enjoy the rewards of that knowledge for years. The reason is simple: In this quicksand world of technology, no breakthrough innovation stays in vogue for more than a few years. So the key to success lies in the ability to learn and applying that knowledge in a crunched time frame. It is also about being comfortable in reinventing yourself every few years. This is a major shift from identifying a technology or solution area and progressively getting deeper into it over time. Marginal utility of expertise tends to fade away sooner than ever in these times of change.

Tinkerers are Welcome
Truth be told, tinkerers in the modern-day organisation are not exactly a dime a dozen. They are a rare breed of people who are far more likely to innovate than the rest, just because they are ever curious about the fringes and beyond. A tinkerer will improvise on an existing practice or solution and transform it into a creative marvel. This is something the startup world has driven very well, but the larger players will need to imbibe this culture. Some motivational push, the right kind of support system and an infrastructure to materialise those ideas are what companies should encourage.

Valuing Craftsmen and not just Management
The best predictor of what a company’s employees will do is what they are incentivised to do. Recognition of an employee's craft can usher in a positive cultural change in any organisation. Talent in most large firms today are in a rat race to get into the ‘management’ layer due to the perceived stature and value in the organisation. As a result, focus on the craft often takes a backseat. In this era of flat team structures and de-layering of organisations, it’s imperative to create a culture of staying close to your craft. Being a 'player-coach' is key to demonstrating value and relevance in the client context.

What does the future look like?
By nature, cultures are dynamic. Organisations must realise that changing culture is like aiming at a moving object. It makes more sense to approach culture change as a continuous process rather than in big shifts. The future belongs to firms that pay attention to their culture a much as their strategy. While charting out their corporate strategy, organisations should maintain cultural coherence across their portfolio. As with any change, challenges don’t stem from the ignorance of what needs to change, but the will to drive the change. And companies that are equipped to drive this change are staring at a bright future.

-Sanjay Menon, Managing Director, Sapient India

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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