How Leaders Influence Culture – Part 3; Operating Mechanisms

Another way leaders influence culture is through the use of operating mechanisms.  As described in the book “Know-How: The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don’t” by Ram Charan, an operating mechanism is anything a leader embeds into the culture that is designed to produce a result and hold an organization accountable.  Operating mechanisms can be extremely simple or overly complex, but what they have in common is the influence on norms of behavior and group values, critical elements of the culture. Operating mechanisms function whether the leader is present or not. Here are some examples.

Organizational Structure

An organization’s structure is a fundamental operating mechanism that creates process flow and communication throughout the system.  It is not changed often but becomes outdated quickly. It has a strong influence on culture, especially on how functions are aligned.

Project Plans

Large companies have incorporated this operating mechanism into their cultures, most smaller organizations have not.  This is an operating mechanism that was desperately needed in my last organization and when it was implemented, the culture reacted negatively for several reasons.  This operating mechanism significantly increases accountability and new skills are often needed to effectively manage projects. Within several years, project plans were firmly embedded in the culture of the organization which helped it become a best practice in federal financial management.  

Meeting Agendas

This is a simple operating mechanism that is often overlooked.  Every leader approaches meetings differently. Many do not use agendas.  Without agendas meetings can become huge time wasters. If your organization spends more than 25% of its time in meetings, chances are some of them do not have agendas.

To Do Lists

This is a simple operating mechanism which many organizations do not require.  It is easy to implement and review with your staff when you meet with them. Make sure that the items on the to do list are ranked in order of importance.  It sends an unmistakable message to the culture about priorities.

All of these operating mechanisms deliver results, improve accountability, change the norms of behavior and influence core values.  Once embedded, they function automatically as an important part of the culture. Remember, whenever possible reward the use of new operating mechanisms to ensure these new practices take root.

Next week we will discuss my least favorite way of changing culture – changing your staff.