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Culture: The bedrock for sustainable performance

The 53-year search for European trophies by the Italian national football team ended with a victory over England on Sunday. While the Italian team that had lost four finals in the European competition relish her success, the English team that was once dubbed as underachievers with massive stars got to the finals of any national football competition for the first time since 1966.

The football tournament is like a typical marketplace where organisations strive to be the best in market share, profitability, customers’ loyalty and return on investment to the stakeholders. The bedrock of sustainable organisations that performs and meets their objectives irrespective of the turbulence in the economic and the political environment is the dominant culture. Organisational culture is the multitude of habits, thinking, approaches, and relationships embedded in the company’s disposition to business and engagement with people. I have once declared that the culture in every organisation will eat the best strategy for lunch or dinner if there is no alignment of culture and strategy.

The fact that the English team got the semifinals in the 2018 world cup and the finals for the first time in 55years lays credence to the importance of team or organisational culture in achieving success

Let us use the English national team as a basis for analysing the impact of culture on performance since Sir Alfred Ernest Ramsey won the world cup for the three lions in 1966. The most prominent and star-studded English team was paraded under Sven-Göran Eriksson. Eriksson’s team was not as quality as the previous teams with David Seaman, David Platt, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, the premiership highest goal scorer and Paul Gascoigne, the midfielder maestro. Eriksson team was, however, famous for their star status in the premier league and known as a group of under-achievers in the national team. What made the collection of stars from different title-winning premiership teams not best for the national team? Is there any missing link between the individual performance at the club and the national team levels?

Read Also: Values-based leadership

The difference is the culture in the teams’ atmosphere. And here is the clincher! The first job of a leader is to build, shape or align the culture in his or her team with the expected level of performance, QED. Without entrenching the right attitude, communication, and engagement, the performance target is an illusion and strategic guesswork. The best way to predict Organisation’s future performance is the alignment of its culture with the performance expectations.

Sven-Goran Eriksson could not go past the quarterfinals of the three significant competitions he led England with his team because of the dominant culture he established. The effect of the WAGs (known as the wives and girlfriends of high-profile athletes) culture polarised the team, made some players more superior and senior to others and above all, create a distraction and a show-biz atmosphere contrary to the seriousness required to winning a football tournament. Eriksson would have met it well by allowing flexibility in the camp, by allowing the wives and girlfriends of his stars like David Beckham and Wayne Rooney to be in the camps. But the effects on the team overall wellbeing and focus is less than desired.

In the last three years, my role as the Chief Vision Officer of Mentoras Limited, Nigeria and Mentoras Services Limited, United Kingdom had exposed me to various culture assessments and engagements with multiple clients across borders. I have identified WAGs in some organisations. To some, it is the availability of highly technical leaders with low leadership skills to motivate and inspire their team beyond the technicality of the job functions. To others, it is the attitude to customers, demoralising communication, lack of appropriate performance management and reward system, institutional highhandedness, arrogance, and the lack of infinite leadership mindset and approach to building enduring institutions out of the existing organisations. I developed the infinite stake theory and shared how it relates to building sustainable institutions that cut across all divides in the previous articles on this column.

Back to the English team, the successors of Eriksson made several attempts to eradicate the WAGs culture. Steve McClaren’s first step was to fire David Beckham but failed to qualify for the Euro 2008. Organisations need their stars, and a one-person attitude does not make a culture.

Fabio Capello instilled discipline and reduce press attention on the team. Experienced Roy Hodgson and flamboyant Sam Allardyce did not change the team’s performance level noticeably.

The less experienced and lowly placed Gareth Southgate decided to focus on the team’s culture above the team members’ press attention and sturdiness. He focused on the team’s engagement with one another, with the community and less of newspapers headline chasing attributes that characterised the team during Beckham and Rooney’s era. Southgate built a team without a clear leader or superstar but with leaders within multiple groups. He changed the supporters’ minds that usually taunted and threw paper aeroplanes to the team three years ago to ardent lovers of the national team. Gareth did not make himself a celebrity out of his position but focused on building a team to achieve results progressively.

Res ipsa loquitur-the fact speaks for itself. The fact that the English team got the semifinals in the 2018 world cup and the finals for the first time in 55years lays credence to the importance of team or organisational culture in achieving success.

For your strategy to be effective as a leader, the starting point is to access and review your team or Organisation’s dominant culture. For example, the hierarchy cultures will foster corporate traditions at the expense of change and innovation. The market cultures will focus on the bottom line at the cost of building sustainable relationships. The adhocracy and clan cultures have their pros and cons. Therefore, establishing an influential culture that aligns with your team performance expectations is necessary to win in the marketplace and build a sustainable launchpad for future performance.

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