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The role of culture in the boardroom: aligning culture and strategy

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Employee engagement expert and Finsbury partner Louisa Moreton discussed the increasing role of purpose in business alongside fellow experts Lisa Mac Callum and Christina Mills, at a breakfast in partnership with Future Talent Group.

At a recent breakfast event for HR leaders, participants discussed the role of culture and how it relates to wider organisational purpose. With the introduction of new corporate governance regulations requiring culture and purpose to be defined and to be measured, there’s a real opportunity for HR to bring a business-critical issue to the board table.

But how can you make the most of your culture and ensure it adapts in a way that aligns with your business strategy and operating model? How can you bring your organisation’s purpose to life through culture and strategy and effectively demonstrate this to the board?

Future Talent’s recent breakfast event for HR leaders, hosted in partnership with global strategic communications firm Finsbury, sought to discuss the role of culture, and how it relates to wider organisational purpose.

Participants at the intimate gathering explored ways to align people and culture to the corporate agenda – and to make it everyone’s business, rather than simply an “HR concern”.

Jim Carrick-Birtwell, CEO of Changeboard and Future Talent Group, opened the event by asserting that the concept of ‘organisational purpose’ has risen up the ladder of significance in the past few years. “Companies can make a huge difference,” he said. “How do we take the zeitgeist outside business? How do we align where we want to go with what we need to do?”

According to Louisa Moreton (pictured above, middle), partner at Finsbury, ‘purpose and culture’ are high on the agenda for many c-suite members, who don’t think they can solve them. This, however, is far from the case.

“What we are really talking about here is doing business well,” she said. “Jim Collins was right in his book From Good to Great when he argued that companies can survive inflection points that go beyond the products they are selling. For me, this is the moment for people who get people. HR owns the key to unlock this.”

The arrival of ‘the new CEOs’

Former Nike Inc vice president, Lisa MacCallum (above, left), founder of Inspired Companies and a Meaningful Business 100 leader, described a “shift in mindset” which requires organisations to stand for a purpose above and beyond profit. “Companies need to be really clear about their pursuit of this,” she said.

She has noted a new force in the market which decides whether businesses succeed or fail. These “new CEOs” are customers, employees and outsiders, with powerful ways into companies and new ways of articulating their views (such as via social media). And they are not going away anytime soon.

In today’s environment, she argued, it is opinion of the crowd that determines an organisation’s fate, commercially speaking.

“To be an inspired business, you need three things: an inspired mission, inspired action and inspired profit,” she said. “But turning your mission into action is the hardest part. That’s the real nuts-and-bolts work inside companies.”

Changing the culture at SAB Miller

In 2013, the arrival of a new CEO at global brewer SABMiller prompted a company-wide strategy and culture review, involving an overhaul of leadership behaviours.

As communications and reputation director, Christina Mills (above, right) was on the steering group that developed a group vision, purpose, values and behaviours, linked to a new corporate strategy.

This was visibly and actively led by the CEO, with emphasis placed on role-modelling behaviour change. “It was evolutionary, not revolutionary,” Mills explained. “We were clear about linking culture with strategy and ensuring there was a direct connection between what was happening at the top with the wider global strategy.”

She described how the three-year change programme prompted the development of “Our Story” to provide clarity on what united a globally disparate business.

SABMiller also conducted research to find out what external stakeholders expected of them as a business, and found the company was not deemed to be sufficiently inspiring. “We needed a higher purpose beyond making money,” she said.

“We did a lot of work on what we wanted to stand for, where we were going and what we wanted to achieve,” she continued. “The storytelling approach helped our leaders to speak about the business in an authentic way.”

Ultimately, the change programme culminated in a vision “to be the most admired beverage company in the world” alongside a purpose to “bring refreshment and sociability; improve livelihoods and help build communities”.

This article first appeared on Changeboard.