Jonas Ridderstråle, Speaker & Author, Knightray

Jonas RidderstraleDr. Jonas Ridderstråle is one of the world’s most influential and respected business thinkers and speakers. Since bursting onto the international scene with the bestselling book Funky Business in 2000, Jonas has remained at the forefront of the new generation of management thinkers. So far, his books have been translated into more than 30 languages and published in more than 50 countries worldwide. In 2018, he was yet again featured in the Global Top 30 Management Gurus ranking.

Jonas has an MBA and a Ph.D. in international business and was recognized as Sweden’s outstanding young academic of the year. In 2007, he was awarded the prestigious Italian Nobels Colloquia award for “Leadership in Business and Economic Thinking”. Jonas is currently a visiting professor at the internationally acclaimed business school Ashridge in the UK. His research has been published in leading academic journals.

Dr. Ridderstråle’s ideas and work have attracted huge media coverage throughout the world. He has appeared on both CNN, CNBC, Al Jazeera and a host of other television networks in extended interviews. Elsewhere, he has been featured in Fortune, Fast Company, McKinsey Quarterly, Time Magazine, Financial Times, The Times, Stern, Newsweek, Paris Match, and many other publications worldwide.

What does organizational culture mean to you?

A good working definition is “the way we do things around here”. However, to work proactively with the concept of developing organizations and leaders you need to understand that culture is multidimensional and permeates everything in a company. In my own thinking, I’ve been greatly influenced by the Scottish writer Ninian Smart and his ideas about the dimensions that we find in the world religions. Building on his work I have written and talked about the concept of a corporate religion – a set of beliefs and structures that people can attach themselves to. Properly managed, a corporate religion creates that organizational adrenaline that ensures both momentum and commitment.

What are the major determinants of organizational culture?

To my mind, future success in business requires fantasy+feelings+faith. The greatest companies build massive levels of both psychological and social capital in the form of a corporate religion giving the organizational tribe a clear direction and guaranteeing co-ordinated action. This is not the time and place to describe in detail the seven dimensions that we find in the best business bibles. Instead, here’s a list of these elements and some questions with a patented impact on the competitiveness of any organization:

  • Ideological – Your Dream: Do you have a dream or just five-year plans?
  • Mythical – Your Stories: Do you have a CSO – a Chief Storytelling Officer?
  • Ritual – Your Ceremonies: Do you celebrate success?
  • Ethical – Your Values: Do you hire for attitude?
  • Emotional – Your Experience: Do you have personalized EVPs – Employee Value Propositions?
  • Material – Your Things: Do you have an architecture supporting talent to play at work?
  • Organizational – Your Structures: Do you have systems enabling collective intelligence?

What is the role of employees in organizational culture?

People are both the carriers and the custodians of culture. In effect, recruitment and retention of talent become super-critical. Unfortunately, in far too many companies, recruitment is seen as the lowest form of HR. Not in the best ones, however. There, it’s at the top of the agenda for the most senior executives, because they know that if you fail in recruitment, not all the McKinsey consultants in the world can save you.

This also brings to the front the issue of who to recruit. Strong cultures rely on shared values. So the question becomes: how do you get people to share your values? Short answer: hire those who already do! In the past, and still much so today, organizations hired for skill and then tried to train for attitude – bring in the smartest engineers and after that brainwash them in the trainee program! Today, peak performers hire for attitude and then train for skill. The fact that knowledge is increasingly perishable make hiring for skill-less relevant. Also, without shared values, there is no organizational glue – the mechanism that assures direction and coordinated action. In a world where collaboration – across functions and countries and even between organization – is ever more important, the latter reason is paramount.

What are the common problems associated with managing organizational culture?

Way too many executives fail to understand that today the soft stuff is the hard stuff. Rather than actively managing the culture they are still bogged down with re-arranging the boxes and arrows, the budgeting process and strategic planning. We should not be surprised. That’s where they got their training. That’s what they are evaluated on and rewarded for.

But, in a world where culture eats strategy for breakfast every day, there are increasing calls for a new type of manager – a “humanager”, if you like – someone as good at managing people flows as the manager of the past was at managing financial flows, technological flows and flows of goods and services.

This has system-wide ramifications. Go back 200 years, and most managers were lawyers because the legal matters mattered most. Then, we got the engineers, since it was all about understanding electrification that enabled the industrial era. Later on, the MBAs got into play as bean counting became in vogue. But when people are placed centre stage we need a new model – in the world of education and in business.

What are the ways to innovate company culture? Any best practices to share.

I guess the question is; can you reinvent a large organization or is that like learning to fly – an impossible dream? Good news: it can be done.

Here are four critical steps.

  • Purpose: The organization needs a crystal-clear purpose. This dream must be consistent, continuous and communicated – in fact, over-communicated. Everyone at IKEA knows that the company exists to “to create a better everyday life for the many people”. Apple proclaims to be “on the face of the earth to make great products”.

BMW equals premium and Microsoft set out with the vision of a personal computer in every home running their software. This also shows that you can dream about many things, ranging from perfection to innovation and domination to salvation. There just is no one best purpose.

  • People: Not everyone will buy into the new purpose. Beware of “counter-evolutionaries” – people who don’t want any change at all. It’s easy to spot the counter-revolutionaries, but the former group of people can be a lot more difficult to detect and do a lot of harm. Be very clear on the values that follow from and support the new purpose, and on how this will have an impact on anything from recruitment to remuneration and rewards.

That clarity comes with a positive side-effect: the organization becomes increasingly self-selecting. Given that the values differentiate you from competition and are anything but bland (unfortunately, this is quite rare), a lot of people will and should pick up their stuff and leave! Use a triviality test. If your values sound ludicrous when negated – “hate the customer” – they will never add value.

Think of W. L Gore, the makers of Gore-Tex, a 50+ year-old company that has appeared on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list every year since 1998. One of their core values is, “We don’t manage people, we expect people to manage themselves.” That sets you apart.

  • Perspective: Having a shared purpose and values opens up for productive diversity in so many other dimensions. With a lowest-common-denominator in place, different voices can and must be heard. Stop hiring and promoting clones! Perspective is worth at least 50 IQ points. Creativity equals diversity squared.

When asked why he had as many as 50 people reporting to him, former Google CEO and now Chairman, Eric Schmidt, responded; “If you get enough direct reports, then you can’t manage them. That was the goal.” Eric had realized that he was not smart enough to have all the answers or to formulate all the questions that would determine the fate of Google. He, therefore, created a reporting structure where even the slightest effort to run the company in a traditional way would make him go nuts. This doesn’t mean that Eric Schmidt could not play an important role as a leader at Google. On the contrary, he played a pivotal part, but also a very different one. Fast forward leaders have to draw upon all the deviance and diversity that exists within the organization, create a discussion and make sure that it is a debate with a deadline. This brings us to my final point.

  • Process-platform: In a modern firm, investing in an advanced infostructure + extensive traveling and rotation of people across borders are mandatory measures to be taken. No communication=no change. Trying to change a culture without a platform enabling debates and discussions is a bit like entering the Olympic marathon wearing an evening gown and high-heel shoes. Don’t expect success.

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