Culture: Create and Sustain a Competitive and Thriving Organizational Climate

“People, ideas and hardware – in that order!” ~ John Boyd’s mantra

Execution focused on external behaviors. Let’s shift to look at the internal and group element of successful accomplishment of the mission – an organization’s culture.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, Translating Classic Strategic Theory into Modern Business Practice, culture is a topic the classic strategists knew well. Clausewitz addressed areas such as training, motivation and quality of personnel. He called this ‘moral factors,’ “the non-material, non-quantifiable metaphysical dimensions that permeate every facet of war.”

“What is in fact proven to make for superiority is the situation with regard to group feeling” – Ibn Khaldun, Arab historian

This ‘group feeling’ is the “we” perspective: the invisible and collective dimension of getting results. The following elements are needed for creating and sustaining a [competitive] organizational climate:

Mutual Trust & Transparency

“Both leadership and monitoring are valueless without trust. The “contracts:…of intent and mission express that trust…that his subordinates will understand and carry out his desires and trust by subordinates that they will be supported when exercising their initiative.” – Bill Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook

A healthy group environment begins with mutual trust. This is the trust of leaders that their team will carry out carry out the mission and the trust of team members that they will be supported and cared for. This is the foundation of unit cohesion; of internal harmony.
Trust is facilitated by transparency: the free flow of information within an organization and between its stakeholders.

‘’Trust and transparency are always linked. Without transparency, people don’t believe what their leaders say” – Warren Bennis.

Divest control – create leaders at every level

One of the biggest buzzwords in leadership and management literature is ‘empowerment.’ Ask any management professor or consultant and they will advise you to ‘empower’ your team.

What does this mean and how do you do it?

In the book Turn the Ship Around, former submarine Captain David Marquet explains the importance of creating a bottom-up, leader-leader environment where others effectively take responsibility.

Author Stephen R. Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  fame, notably sang Captain Marquet’s praise writing “I don’t know of a finer model of this kind of empowering leadership…”

And Covey goes on to illustrate what this type of leadership looks like in practice. “He reserved only the tip-of-the-iceberg decisions for his own confirmation. The great mass – the other 95 percent of the decisions – were being made without any involvement or confirmation by the captain whatsoever.”

Captain Marquet challenged subordinates to think at a higher level. As Covey noticed as he took a ride in the submarine Marquet commanded, ownership shifted to team members as he heard them speak differently than most subordinates. “I INTEND TO…” was how these team members spoke. There was no “disempowered phrases” like “requesting permission to …” or “I would like to…” of passive followers.

Marquet stated that this approach caused each subordinate leader to think at the next higher level. “In effect by articulating their intentions, the officers and crew were acting their way into the next higher level of command. We had no need of leadership development programs; the way we ran the ship was the leadership development program.”

Divest control through increased competence

Another important point Marquet makes is that before you divest control you need to make sure the organization can handle more decision-making authority. The ability to handle more responsibility is directly linked to the competence of your team members. Therefore, as leaders, we need to ensure that training and learning are important components of our plans.

“Training is a subset of learning, which in turn is a subset of personal growth. We strive to grow each day.” – David Marquet

Clarity and direction

“People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” – Samuel Johnson

Leaders need to provide clarity and direction to their team. As Samuel Johnson astutely observed, this is often more an issue of reminding instead of instruction.

In the chaos of a dynamic team striving to accomplish their mission, leaders need to constantly provide clarity to their followers about their shared purpose and the joint direction they are travelling.

“He whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious,” said one of the most famous strategists, Sun Tzu.

You achieve this unity in purpose by sharing your collective why – the purpose of your company and mission – which I explained previously as the Leader’s Intent.

From Trust but verify to Trust and Verify

We begin and end with trust. A leader’s character and competence cultivate trust in the follower. Trust is the basis of the social contract between the leader and follower. But the leader also needs to have trust that the team member is able to accomplish the mission. There is mutual trust but verification needs to happen to ensure that progress is being made in execution.
In the early days of my military experience I used to dread inspections. I associated it with the fear of being ‘caught’ doing something wrong. It wasn’t until I got more leadership experience that the power of effective inspection is the moments you catch your team members doing something right.

“The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right.” ~ Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Why is this important?

Am I suggesting you become a military-style drill instructor constantly coming up with surprise inspections?

“People do what you inspect, not what you expect” ~ Louis Gerstner, former CEO, IBM

Of course not.

But if you want sustained behavioral change you need to regularly monitor and inspect.

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