Guest lecturer and business leader dispels culture myths

A new book on organisational change by an LBS guest lecturer takes a practical, hands-on approach to business culture

Kirsty Bashforth

Kirsty Bashforth has put her experience in building culture at a variety of companies, including at her own culture advisory agency Quay Five, into a forthcoming book: Culture Shift: A Practical Guide to Managing Organizational Culture.

Apart from visiting LBS, Bashforth is founder and CEO of QuayFive, and among a portfolio of non-executive director roles sits on the board of Kier Group and Serco. The book draws upon several vivid examples from her long career in commercial leadership, operations and organisational dynamics, including 24 years at BP in a global career where she began on an oil trading floor.

"I had a growing awareness of the importance of culture between 1998 and 2004," she said. "BP posted me to businesses where they were being integrated and I became increasingly aware that an intentional focus on culture as part of that is business critical.”

Bashforth was later put in charge of rebuilding BP’s culture after the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 and the book uses visceral example from this and other pieces of her work to illustrate steps to take when overseeing a culture reset or simply an adjustment.

Waking up to culture

However, Bashforth believes business is still only just waking up to culture as a central part of business operations.

Said Bashforth: “I strongly believe culture is starting to become more mainstream. To put it simply, businesses fail because people make bad decisions not because an algorithm is wrong. What leads people to making bad choices is the culture they operate within. There is increasing pressure to recognise this, and many organisations are starting to get to grips with it, but it’s by no means consistent, and many don’t really know where or how to start.

“Culture is the summation of behaviour, decisions, actions, perceptions, habits, norms, and it is vital to align your culture and your strategy. The greatest strategy won't be delivered effectively if your culture doesn’t underpin and enable it.

The book sets out a behavioural approach to culture through “nudges, sticks and carrots”.

Bashforth likens her role in culture to conductor or an air traffic controller. Those inside organisations fly the planes and play the instruments but the culture defines the airspace or the musical score.

As a consultant, she knows she has done a good job when people aren’t coming up to thank her: “Culture isn’t something you ‘do to’ people. “It is best summed up as just the way it works round here. Changing culture is about managing a fundamental change in those habits, perceptions and behaviours. It takes time, it takes the organisation to do it, not the consultant. But it does need overarching orchestration. When it is effective those inside the organisation don't see the effort, it just flows.”