Sep 18

The intersection of strategy, culture and behaviour

3 Key Lessons from the 2017 ALPMA Summit

Last week, Connie and I worked at the 2017 ALPMA Summit ‘Sailing the 4Cs’, the largest legal management conference and trade exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere and the culmination of many months of hard slog by a dedicated team.  This year’s Summit focused on how to build collaboration, communication, creativity and critical-thinking at law firms.  I was privileged to hear from some outstanding speakers as I live-tweeted the event and posted updates across social media. As with all good conferences, many of the learnings were applicable well beyond the legal sector.

Here are my top three lessons from Summit:

1. Connect with the ‘WHY’

The brilliant Holly Ransom (whose impressive achievements at 27 made many of us in attendance feel like chronic underachievers) talked extensively about the importance of ‘connecting with the WHY’ – the higher purpose of an organisation; its reason for being or guiding purpose (hint for law firms – this is NOT about making money).

Whit Lee, Executive Director – Strategy & Legal Software at LexisNexis clearly articulated LexisNexis’ WHY, when he spoke eloquently about LexisNexis’ role in advancing the rule of law across the world, at the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards presentation.

Holly’s key message was that connecting with the WHY was an essential strategy for engaging and retaining the Millennials in your workplace, who have high expectations of making a difference in the world.

As a card carrying member of Generation X, it is my view that is that this is actually equally relevant for all generations at work. Who doesn’t want to be passionately engaged at work? To feel like you are making a contribution to something bigger than yourself or even your company’s bottom line?

The task of tapping into the WHY is far easier for membership associations than for many other organisations, given they are typically exist for a clear purpose that benefits all members. Yet the describing the WHY is struggle for many associations – who often mistake their ‘WHAT’ and ‘HOW’ for their ‘WHY’.  ALPMA has done a good job of connecting it its WHY and tying this to its everyday activities by creating its ‘promise to members’ and making delivery on this promise central to its strategic priorities. Associations that live their promise will be far more successful at attracting members, sponsors and volunteers than those that don’t. Learn more about creating a promise to members.

2. The intersection of strategy and culture

Michael Henderson (pictured) provided a fascinating insight on culture and its influence on the achievement of strategy. His message was clear:

Culture delivers performance – strategy directs it.

Strategy without culture is powerless. Culture without strategy is directionless.

This makes a lot of sense to me. But the real light bulb moment (particularly given the work we do developing strategic plans for associations) came for me when Michael stated that:

Culture is EIGHT TIMES more influential on the achievement of your plan that than strategy.

Think about it.

This means that no matter how sound the strategy, nor how carefully planned the implementation program, it will not gain traction unless your organisational culture is aligned and supportive.

As Michael pointed out, culture is a risk management issue – and a poor organisational culture is far more likely to cause serious damage to your business than your competitors or the economic environment. I see examples of poor culture every day in my work with Worklogic, as they investigate and mediate cases of workplace bullying, harassment, fraud and discrimination that happen with alarming frequency across all types of workplaces.

Organisations that have a strong culture do not tolerate behaviour that is not aligned with its values from anyone (no matter how senior or how much money they bring in). They are safe places for people to talk about what is going on and to raise concerns. Is this true of your organisation?

When you are putting together your next strategic plan, consider whether your culture is an enabler of this plan or a blocker and then put together a plan to elevate your culture.

He outlined a simple but powerful architecture of culture – Believe, Behave, Become.  The first thing you need to do is to get people at your association to believe in where you are going and what you are doing. This concept sits nicely with Holly’s message of connecting with the WHY.

According to Michael’s model, the second step is to get staff behaviour to align with the direction in which you are heading. For people to actually invest their intellectual time and effort in implementing the strategy (instead of ignoring it or worse, obstructing it). This effort has to be lead from the top and by people that have respect and influence in the organisation.

This is where the rubber hits the road.

3. The behaviour/intention gap

The third key insight for me came from Judy Anderson, when she talked about the scientific research on actual behaviour versus stated intention:

Actual behaviour matches intention only 0.28% of the time

For those of us who have embarked on countless diets, I guess this shouldn’t be such a surprise!

In the context of innovation, Judy’s message was that there was little point testing innovative ideas on a hypothetical ‘would you use this’ basis. You must test actual behaviour i.e. given a choice, do they buy this one or that one?

In a broader context, this served for me as humbling reminder of how hard we have to work to successful make any kind of behavioural changes either personally or professionally and why it is critical to be clear about desired behaviour, to keep the desired behaviour front of mind and to constantly reinforce this if we want the change to be lasting.

Given this, it is also worthwhile considering how you are rewarding and reinforcing behaviour at your organisation so that it aligns with your values and strategic direction. At Summit, it was clear that many law firms are rewarding the wrong behaviour.  Rod McGeoch talked about remunerating partners so that 60% of their package was based on values and 40% on contribution. Tim Corcoran said that an effective compensation plan links what is good for the partner to what is good for the firm.   What behaviours does your organisation recognise and reward?

Finally and on a lighter note, I have developed a serious case of job title envy – Co-Founder & Director at FineHaus is so much less exciting than Judy Andersson’s ‘Inventologist’ or Michael Henderson’s ‘Corporate Anthropologist’ (not to be mistaken for Corporate Archaeologist!). I am open to suggestions!


About Nicki Hauser

Nicki Hauser is the co-founder and director of FineHaus, a management consultancy focused on helping membership associations achieve their growth ambitions and manage their operations.  She has worked with many membership associations and small businesses to create sound strategic, marketing and sponsorship strategies and then turn them into reality.  She works in partnership with co-founder, Connie Finestone to provide the flexible, affordable and scaleable access to senior management expertise that membership associations need.