Designing Your Culture for High Performance

by Michael Graber

If you follow this column you know that we live in paradoxical times. While our future depends on digital transformations and disruption in every industry, the future of the workplace is human-centered. This particular paradox presents a unique set of issues.

If you embrace the thinking in the popular management book, Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast, and believe that a thriving and attuned culture can grow into your foremost competitive advantage, you cannot apply the mindsets and lenses of the traditional schools of Organizational Design if trying to compete in the emerging economy.

Like so many corporate processes, Organizational Design reached its apex in the Industrial Era. Many of the mindsets and practices are steeped in the outmoded command-and-control model of management. Much of the language creates silos, as it is based off of a military-type structure (span of control, org chart, authority, etc.) and takes a factory-type mentality when looking at human potential (such as the disembodied term labor force).

 Nothing in this outdated lexicon allows for authentic human potential, which is what top young (and young-at-heart) workers are demanding from their workplaces today. If you are trying to design the workplace of the future, consider a radically different approach.

Instead of superimposing a structure from an outdated era as a top-down approach, try a bottom-up redesign. Design your culture to be a potent magnet for talented, high-performing people and let them thrive at create value for your organization. Support them. Give them the tools, resources, and authority required to keep learning, growing, and realizing new ways for your organization to have a wider and deeper impact in the world.

Such individuals resent being put in a box with an arrow going up and a dotted line moving in another direction before figuring out their highest and best value to your organization. In fact, you are hamstringing their success at your organization. As the old Western says, “Don’t fence me in!” This is the most inhumane thing you can do, and perhaps the most costly to your culture.

To put it plainly, how we structure the world of management and metrics needs to be reimagined, innovated, and renewed for the emerging era. What is needed is Culture Design first (bottom up), and then a new human-centered form of Organizational Design to emerge from a series of positive cultural changes and refinements.

This model represents a different orientation to workplace structure than our inherited templates, but also represents the biggest opportunity.

Companies are paying millions of dollars for failed digital transformations and business agility consulting only to wind up in a paralyzing frustration. The biggest problem is the one they didn’t address—culture and cultural alignment with the project; e.g. the human part.

What is culture but an operating system of humans working together? If people are ingrained in old behaviors—and language creates our beliefs and behaviors—and old models of organizational design, you will never attain the results you desire.

Culture Design is the best predictor of a future motivated state of engaged, active employees—and should be the new norm for which you aim.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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