The whole story
Culture matters: it underpins how resilient, responsive and innovative every organisation can be. Ultimately, it separates the star performers from the also-rans.
But say ‘culture’ to most executives and their response will translate to: it’s important but intangible, we can’t control it, so we choose to prioritise other elements of business management.
The C-suite programme leaders at KPMG were wrestling with how to get their delegates to reappraise culture. It might be an important topic – arguably the important topic. But ‘culture change’ initiatives and their salesmen tend to be flaky, HR-centric, and not capable of holding a conversation at the most senior levels. And time for this type of content was limited: the programme was already packed. What to do?
We met with them. The fundamental problem, we felt, was that executives were probably lacking a sense of what culture really means, and the language and data points to be able to discuss it properly. Give people those, we suggested, and you will watch them fly.
Together we developed not a presentation but a conversation: less chalk, more talk. Armed with a handful of definitions, unique frameworks and data points, we challenged delegates to retain an open mind, think differently, and see what truths emerged for them about their business. And we got them talking to each other, exchanging insights and sharing their experiences.
The process was both insightful and effective – for both the delegates and us. We discovered that a conversation about the relationship between culture and commercial performance was one that most attendees had been longing to have. We discovered that size is no predictor of behaviour. For example, some of the largest corporations in the world are amongst the most impulsive: they have plenty of ideas, but can’t get them to market. And we discovered that breaking culture into its constituent parts enabled commitment to practical action.
The result? Three years later KPMG remains a valued partner, and we continue to participate each year in the C-suite programme.
The key insights
- Progress comes from conversation not presentation.
- Giving people a shared concept, language and data can turn subjects from intangible to accessible.
- An hour is a lot of time, if used well.