Culture eats strategy for breakfast

This month’s guest blogger – Sue Kernahan, UK general manager of medical devices company Coloplast – argues that while strategy may be vital for business success it will inevitably fail if the corporate culture is not right.

Having a clear business strategy is vital for business success. If you don’t know where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there, you’re very unlikely to arrive at your business destination – or even to recognise it if by some stroke of luck you end up somewhere close.

Having and implementing a strategy is no guarantee of success, however. Many things can derail even the best of strategies, as my fellow Metrix blogger Professor Brian Smith has pointed out in his books and articles elsewhere.

One of the most significant of those potential pitfalls is corporate culture.

Conversely, a strong and supportive corporate culture can compensate for a poor strategy, delivering success despite strategic failures.

In fact, in my view, culture is by far the most important determinant of success. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. [more]

Managing corporate culture is far more difficult than managing corporate strategy. Strategy can be re-written in an afternoon in the boardroom. Culture is deep-seated within the organisation. Changing it takes care, patience and real leadership – it is one of those things that truly does need to be ‘led from the top’ but then embraced and embedded at all levels in an organisation.

This topic has come to prominence in recent weeks as one of the nation’s largest organisations – the NHS – has been taking a look at its own corporate culture and coming to the view that some things need to change.

The nation’s top nurses – Jane Cummings, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, and Viv Bennett, Director of Nursing at the Department of Health – have launched a new drive to ensure values such as compassion and courage are at the heart of the NHS and the public health and care sectors.

They have published a new three-year vision and strategy for nursing, midwifery and care staff that aims to build the culture of compassionate care in all areas of practice.

Called Compassion in Practice, it has been drawn up following an eight-week consultation involving over 9,000 nurses, midwives, care staff and patients.

Key actions envisaged in the plan include recruiting, appraising and training staff according to values as well as technical skill; regularly reviewing organisational culture; doing more to assess patients’ experience; and helping staff make every contact count for improving health and wellbeing.

At the launch of the strategy Ms Cummings said: “Being a nurse, a midwife or a care worker is an extraordinary role. We all came into these roles because we wanted to make a difference to the people we care for and support.”

Peter Crome, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at Keele University, said: “Nurses and other care staff – whether they’re in hospitals, hospices or in the community – should take a more caring and compassionate role when it comes to looking after vulnerable groups, rather than what is often seen as a very task-oriented approach.”

Their comments had particular resonance at Coloplast, as our mission statement is ‘Making life easier for people with intimate healthcare needs’.  This is something we passionately strive to achieve every day. We never lose sight of the fact that what we do changes the lives of the people we come into contact with.

As a leader my role is to ensure that everyone understands the impact they have on the lives of the people we deal with. Our aim is to deliver ‘the perfect customer experience’ and it is great to see the NHS taking a similar ‘customer-centric’ approach based on values such as care and compassion.

Taken together, mission, vision and values are a definition of corporate culture. The culture which Coloplast seeks to establish throughout our business would not be appropriate for every organisation. Every company or public body needs to define its own to match its needs and objectives. But defining the right culture and then actively managing it is a key to success in both business and public service.

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