If you ever doubted the importance of culture as a living, breathing, embedded influence in your organization, try doing something inconsistent with the culture. Try inculcating innovation and entrepreneurship in a culture of unquestioning respect for authority at each level. A slog. Try taking away a seemingly insignificant employee benefit at a company that’s been paternalistic. A mutiny. Continue reading
“Trying is always enough.” ― Patricia Briggs, Dragon Bones
“There is no try. There is only do.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars Continue reading
IBM undertook a study to determine what gets in the way of companies being able to implement the changes that will realize corporate strategy. The Number One reason, identified by fully half the respondents, was ‘corporate culture’. (“The Enterprise of the Future: IBM Global CEO Study 2008.” IBM Corporation. May 2008. www.ibm.enterpriseofthefuture). Other academic research and consulting studies point to the same major culprit in derailing change efforts.
We all nod our heads. We’ve had this experience and know the statistics are true. But then we shake our heads in confusion. What is this thing called culture, how does it work, and why is it so prominent in limiting our ability to change? And what can we do about it?
Culture is like an iceberg, with most of its weight and bulk below the surface.
Carl called his two primary clients recently to tell them his wife needed serious surgery in a couple days, and he asked them to give him a few extra days to complete reports, promising to attend to the work in between periods of helping his wife through post-operative recovery.
The first client, Brigid, expressed empathy and wished his wife well, and then asked a number of questions about when she could get the delayed preliminary findings and what would be the latest he might finish the report. Carl was reassuring, but he ended the phone call feeling stress about how he’d manage everything. Continue reading
One of my clients, the CEO of a successful business with a well-deserved reputation for outstanding customer focus and staffed with dedicated professionals, reported over time an increasing unhappiness with his job: “I don’t enjoy being here any more. I don’t like what’s happening.” He had a hard time putting his finger on what it was that caused his discomfort. When he did, it was an even more troubling realization: “People in the company – and especially some of my top people – aren’t doing what’s right for the firm, only what they see as benefitting themselves.” He went on to describe diversions of blame when goals were not met, lack of personal accountability to the firm’s goals, and decisions in one line of business that disadvantaged others. He wondered how such a reputable and caring culture could have shifted without his seeing it sooner. Continue reading
One day, over lunch with two of my corporate colleagues, we challenged each other to form a list of all the company’s sacred cows: the norms no one challenges, the unspoken behavioral rules, the gospel according to long corporate practice. Gleefully, we started listing them. Soon, however, the glee turned more serious. Without really trying, in just one hour, we had a three-page, single-spaced list – with no duplications! We’d never imagined there could be so many. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? Continue reading
Organizational culture is one of those concepts like religious faith – we know it is powerful, it can be potently good or potently destructive, and it has a seeming life of its own. But every leader poses the same question: can it be harnessed and directed; can it be changed to support success rather than hinder it? To answer that, you need to understand what builds and feeds it.
Professors Ken Thompson (DePaul University) and Fred Luthans (University of Nebraska) describe seven characteristics of organizational culture: Continue reading