Last Friday I hosted one of my periodic Chief Officers’ Forum meeting. The guest speaker was Alex Gourlay, CEO of Boots the Chemists. The discussion among the senior executives present is confidential, but I’m happy to share the key conclusions of the session, which identified five key insights.

  1. Your organisation’s culture is a choice. There is no ‘one right way’ and you must ensure that your culture fits your strategy, your aims and your organisation’s capabilities. If you don’t make an explicit choice, your actions will do it for you. This is as true in small organisations as it is in larger businesses.
  2. Building a culture of accountability and entrepreneurialism starts by connecting the organisation more closely to the customer. This means a commitment to service as well as sales, and relationships as well as transactions.
  3. To improve the culture and performance you must first have an honest view of where you are now. Boots achieves this through its ‘Great Place To Work’ scores, its customer care measures and ongoing staff forums and customer panels. Critically, the leadership team must attach similar importance to these KPIs and activities as they do to sales and financial reports. Bringing in new, external leaders can also remove internal prejudices and biases, enabling the leadership team to develop a more objective view of the situation.
  4. Authenticity is everything. People don’t believe slogans on the walls or mouse-mats, they believe what they experience. Your daily actions and decisions dictate your organisation’s culture, not your formal communications. Importantly, small things can mean a lot, and giving individual’s respect and demonstrating that you have listened to them  can become iconic signals of a new approach.
  5. It’s about people and performance. A winning culture puts your people at the heart of the business, but it doesn’t mean that you should shy away from holding them to account. As a result, you must be straight forward in setting your expectations and quick in managing poor performers. Equally, however, you should support those who ‘get’ the cultural aims of the business .

© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.