The famous quote that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, operational excellence for lunch and everything else for dinner” is often attributed to Peter Drucker, the father of management thinking.
While there isn’t a lot of evidence to support that he was the first person to say this, the sentiment is spot-on.
Simply put, this means that executives can formulate the most elegant of strategies, implement world-class processes and systems, but if the organisation’s culture is not aligned with these, failure is the most likely outcome.
As important as it is, there is little consensus on what organisational culture is and whether leaders can influence or change it.
What exactly is organisational culture?
The culture of an organisation is based on that organisation’s shared values that influence how people behave. This tells you what you can expect from that organisation, the type of service and engagement you’ll receive, how friendly and approachable the people will be and how the environment will make you feel.
On the other hand, organisational culture expert Edgar Schein defines it as: “taken for granted basic assumptions and behaviours that are shared within an organisation.”
Assumptions speak to the deepest level of intrinsic beliefs and values of organisation members. Since organisational culture is derived from the organisation’s common values, over time these elements become accepted as normal and second nature.
For instance, at the Tarsus Technology Group we have what we call maxims, which are simple short statements of intent and aspiration. They are worded in the first person and they set the tone for personal commitment and engagement.
Our maxims are:
I have the courage to challenge and act
I am accountable to myself and others
I strive for excellence
I stay true to our vision
I give and receive feedback openly
I trust and inspire trust
I learn through sharing
I show and earn respect
Your success is my success
Our strength is our unity
In 2020, we collectively decided to take a good hard look at our culture. Tarsus Distribution, our subsidiary, prides itself on being product- and sales-driven. Tarsus on Demand is about customer-centricity.
And what about the Tarsus Technology Group? We pride ourselves on our maxims. They serve to inform everything that we do. But are those maxims our culture? That’s still to be determined.
We’ve come a long way, made a lot of changes and with that we’ve seen a lot of progress. Right now, we are settling more into who we would like to be, and our maxims help to guide us in achieving that.
In the past, we’ve had a functional and transactional culture where you were here to get the job done. A side effect of that meant that our abilities in the more human spaces were somewhat lacking; for example, our focus on learnership wasn’t as well-developed as we’d have liked.
In the discovery phase of our journey over the past year, we asked ourselves tough questions such as: “Why we do what we do?” and “What do we need to do to create the culture we want?”
Over the years, we have learnt that we would like the culture of our businesses to be focused on more than just good business performance, and to also incorporate ideas such as lifelong learning for employees, as well as a commitment to re-skilling where needed as technology disrupts the workplace even further.
We have started to shift towards this desired culture. The introduction of many new young people through our support of government initiatives like YES (Youth Employment Services) has been a wonderful injection of energy. It has helped us to focus our activities and the outcomes that we are aiming for, on a more consistent basis.
Planning vs. Agility
Today’s world is changing much faster than anticipated. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that planning is not as important as our ability to be agile and to adapt to the changing business environment.
In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, we were learning on our feet as the pandemic escalated to the national lockdown. By then, we had already put new policies in place and the majority of our workforce was already working from home. That was something we never would have thought possible.
This pandemic and national lockdown has taught us a great deal about who we are, who we want to be, and who we need to be.
So, if we had to define our culture at this point in time, we can confidently say that Tarsus has a learning culture. And we are eager to see what journey this culture will take us on.