There’s a lot of interest in company culture, which prompts another article on culture.
The most important reason is the business owner or CEO sets the culture values and practices that determine success for the company. So it’s important to get it right so the company thrives with the right people. Culture drives much of the company’s behavior. For example, if at a staff meeting the owner expresses concern about the tasks that lead to results, most of its people would work each day on specific tasks that achieve progress toward a final result.
At another company where the owner says after a staff meeting “have some fun out there,” this company will likely achieve its goals and also allow people time to relax and have fun during the day, especially after working hard on an important project.
Let’s visit another company and see if you can define its culture.
The owner in her staff meeting asks for team reports on the work being done. She asks for comments on where the team members felt they were in meeting important goals. She brings up an area that is a difficult challenge and leads a discussion of alternatives. She suggests that the operations manager decide the best alternative with his team and report back in a week. What’s the best word to describe the culture?
If you guessed a very collaborative one, you’re right, based on these few comments. There are many companies trying to become more collaborative and to engage their people in decision making. That’s okay, but it’s not for every company. Some industries thrive with a collaborative culture. These tend to be companies where the answers are not readily apparent, as in research and development.
In a business that is mostly manufacturing, you would expect a culture for operations and a culture for sales. Operations would tend to be more task-oriented while sales would be more relationship-building and influencing oriented.
Culture is basically a subjective thing, intangible, and implicit in terms of content for any company. It does have some common processes for greater visibility in its development and maintenance. Culture maintenance is a process of identifying the champions who exemplify the culture values and practices and rewarding them in public. Culture development is a process of consistent communication from the top, the retelling of stories of success, assessing the right behavior, and checking feedback for understanding and cheering the small achievements that reflect the cultural values.
Whether for developing or maintaining company values, the right behavior is seen within the company among managers and employees, and outside the company in community initiatives and customer relations.
There is usually a dominant culture for the whole company and legitimate subcultures for the different functions. Both Monsanto and Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis before their mergers were paternalistic companies that rewarded loyalty. Today, they each have very different cultures. What each company is rewarding is very different from its past. The culture of Southwest Airlines is still described as “a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude.”
How does a company change its culture? If acquired, it begins a culture change based on how different the acquiring company culture is. Culture change doesn’t have to happen with an acquisition or a merger. But it will happen when the acquiring company signals a change with the new leadership.
Culture change can happen spontaneously within any company that has a compelling reason to change. Often it’s in reaction to an unexpected move by a competitor. A better reason would be to build a culture of engaged, self-initiating people to have the right product ahead of anyone else, like Sony of the past and Apple today.
A new CEO is likely to change a culture by presenting new values to adopt and talking in a new language in the early months of her arrival; new practices are rewarded and gradually the old become extinct. Finding the people who get the new system with its new values and practices can speed culture change. They help show the way. The new values then take hold over a shorter time.
Don’t expect commitment to the new practices by the end of the day; rather expect a few glimpses of success to assure you’re on the right track. Patience is a key practice while the new values are tested rewarded, and integrated into the mainstream.
That is, until the next culture change is needed.
Bob Vecchiotti is a business adviser and professional coach in Peterborough. He lives in Dublin.