I had two days off this week. Thursday and Friday. I was celebrating Thanksgiving. Its not that the UK has started to align Public Holidays with the US…and nor is it some effort on my part to align with my US colleagues. Rather, it’s simply something I have realised over the years. That if I take a vacation day on US Public Holidays then I hardly get any email on those days off. If I take a vacation when the US is working…then I wake up the next day to a full day’s quota of email waiting to be answered.
Thursday and Friday was family time. Wednesday I worked, but with a difference. I had to go up to London to spend the morning with a group of politicians. I was unsure and a little anxious, but I turned out to be a very good day and an amazing experience.
I was with a selection of colleagues from the wider pharmaceutical industry looking to make our case for support – tacit and explicit – for the work that we do and the products we deliver for patients. I was pleased. Pleased the meeting was taking place. Pleased I was there. And pleased with the topics, discussion and outcomes.
The room was large and there were at least thirty individuals sitting at the table. We all had name badges but there was no time for everyone to be introduced. I quickly recognised those individuals I had seen on TV. There were a handful I knew, but the rest were a mystery. But I soon worked out the industry vs. the political participants. By how everyone spoke.
“We need to improve our performance in developing, assessing and approving innovative new drugs” (industry). “We says yes nearly eighty three percent of the time” (political). “General public perception on the Cancer Drug Fund is very positive” (industry). “Overall, sixty two percent of all recommendations are that we should use these agents as recommended or in specific circumstances” (political). The trend becomes apparent….
And then…“no matter what we do to remove barriers, its amazing how many people operate as if those barriers still exist within our organisation”. Who said that one I wondered and looked down the table…had to be industry? But no, it was a political attendee. I wrote it down word for word.
So until that moment, there I was…listening intently…contributing occasionally…observing…and forming opinions. But that ‘barrier’ moment changed my mindset. It was obvious really. It does not really matter what organisation we are in – public or private, local or international – the challenges and opportunities we face and identify are more similar than they are different.
My favourite (and simplest) definition of culture is still ‘how things are done around here’. And ‘how things are done’ involves customs and norms of behaviours. Things that are allowed…or not. Approved of…or not. Rewarded… or not. Things that create or reinforce barriers…real…or not.
Most leaders implement strategy to empower and enable. To remove barriers and to make things possible and desirable. But such a strategy will only be successful if culture allows it and supports it. But strategy is such an attractive (and easy) think to create and implement as a leader. Culture and changing culture is hard…but ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’..
Achieving a change in culture changes everything and achieves anything. And without continued and consistent effort – on, and with, and about an organisation’s culture, then little can be achieved but much will be expended.
I walked around the room at the end of the meeting and caught the ‘barrier individual’, shook their hand, and thanked them for their work…and their words.