Addressing culture to improve mission performance in government

The fourth element of the people, process, and technology model

​As government looks for ways to improve performance amidst increasingly complex challenges, the importance of addressing organizational culture should not be overlooked.

The fourth element: Culture

The rise of millennials in the workforce, the call to do more with less money, and the exponential increase in mission complexity are adding new pressures to government agencies. Most solutions address people, process, and technology for any mission improvement in today’s workplace. We suggest that by designing a strategy and set of initiatives around an additional “fourth element” of culture, agencies can make significantly more progress with both individual employee adoption and the overall organization’s ability to execute the mission.

Culture matters when moving in a new direction
  • ​For hiring and retention, an attractive culture enables organizations to offer seven percent less in starting salary while maintaining a 30 percent lower turnover rate.
  • In business operations, it is an indicator of better results–aligned strategy and culture can account for as much as a 20-30 percent difference in performance.
  • Over 86 percent of leaders surveyed recognize the impact of culture and 82 percent believe that it provides a competitive advantage. Yet, only 15 percent of leaders say their culture is where it needs to be according to researchers.

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Successful culture shifts typically face three main barriers

  1. A high-performance culture looks different for each organization
    A high-performance culture looks different for every organization but it should be well-suited to the organization’s purpose. Can you imagine attorneys trying to adopt information technology (IT) developers’ culture of informal, rapid experimenting, or financial investment firms trying to adopt the nuclear submarine crews’ anti-risk and rigorous safety culture? Because no universal archetype of culture exists, leaders need organization-specific tools capable of evaluating culture and effecting meaningful change.
  2. Historically, few “culture” measurements exist
    Despite having demonstrated tangible value, finding a way to measure culture and connect it back to the business processes that are affecting it is generally difficult and elusive. Culture stubbornly remains one of the last frontiers to be assessed and understood by executives and strategists. In the world of manufacturing, efficiency techniques, such as Lean Six Sigma, and standard operating procedures, such as the ISO9000, have helped create a universally accepted way of mechanizing and measuring a process. Up until now, cultural assessments have not effectively measured the alignment between an organization’s mission and its culture.
  3. Navigating government bureaucracy is complicated
    There is no doubt that government leaders face incredible odds at effectively pivoting an organization’s behaviors to match the mission. Forrester Research notes that more than 70 percent of “big shift” projects (i.e., change management efforts) fail.

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Scaling the barriers involves building a culture-driven strategy

​Though challenging, it is possible to understand an agency’s culture-mission alignment and build better processes that can elevate performance to the next level. To do this, the most effective leaders should follow four basic steps to create and implement culture-driven strategies and agency-wide shifts.

Step 1: Define the ideal mission-culture relationship

Step 2: Analyze the current culture to determine alignment with mission

Step 3: Build a strategy that uses culture to drive the mission objectives

Step 4: Dodge bureaucracy by using pilots and quick wins, then measure

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How FDIC turbocharged mission and organizational success

​Leaders at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) especially understand the value of the culture-driven strategy. The FDIC has the critical mission of maintaining public confidence in the banking system by enforcing banking laws, regulating financial ​institutions, and protecting depositors. To help it achieve this mission, the FDIC requires a culture of financial rigor and effective information security controls that need to be driven by strong risk and governance behaviors. Its leaders and employees need a culture that values change and innovation to be able to make decisions and solve problems quickly, and to innovate new ways of managing complex regulatory environments under increasing cyber threats. Most importantly, employees need to have deep commitment and buy-in to the organizational mission and be motivated to achieve it.

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The stronger the connection between the strategy, policy, people, business processes, technology, and culture, the more likely the success of the organization. Examining an organization’s culture as a “fourth element” to inform improvements, such as clarifying or redesigning practices, aligning people, shaping your mission narrative, or even influencing the design of physical spaces can support the beginnings of a breakthrough in mission performance.

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