Graham Birkenhead, May 11 2021

A Bowl of Cultural Soup

There really is nothing quite like a good bowl of soup; warming, nutritious and tasty. The thing about soup is that there is almost an infinite variety of possibilities of what you can make – whether it is using a different combination of ingredients or a slight variation of the same ingredients. Adjustments to the cooking time or temperature, or even just the mood of the chef, can change the outcome quite considerably.

When thinking about the culture in any organisation, I think of it as soup. The ingredients are the people, processes and tools, materials, and infrastructure, all combined in the organisation, watched and stirred by the chef – you, the leadership, and it is the flavour and texture that emerges. That’s the culture you can ‘sense’ when you walk into a company. You can leave all this to simmer away by itself, and culture will emerge – it always does – but it may not be the one you want or need.

On the theme of food, there is a saying attributed to Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This simply means that you may have the grandest of visions, the most thorough strategic plan, the most highly qualified staff, and the best tools, but unless you create the culture where these things can and do all combine in an optimal way, then you may not get the results that you were hoping for. Culture is formed by ‘human beings’ being and interacting with each other, and the culture you want is an important part of your vision for your company.

We often like to standardise things as much as possible, to build models of the world that we hope will be consistent and survive the test of time. And to some extent those things are helpful, but they are not the full story. When it comes to your organisation’s culture, every day is unique; you have to constantly check (taste), add ingredients or seasoning, or adjust the temperature to maintain the overall balance.

Your culture is what will ultimately play a significant role in your success.

Are you in control of your kitchen?

Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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