Not about structures, but winning hearts and minds, read on:

Managing ChangeCompanies which manage change successfully overwhelmingly share the view that their real challenge is not in revamping strategies, systems or structures, but in changing individual employees’ behaviour, and in creating an environment or ‘culture’ which is conducive to change itself. Corporate culture may be described as the ‘way we do things around here’, the ‘comfort zone’ of a company comprising its:

  • values
  • beliefs
  • behaviour

How strong these are depends on factors such as:

  • Leadership
    employees quickly learn from leaders which behaviour is acceptable and rewarded
  • Length of time with the firm
    attitudes and behaviour patterns are more deep rooted in long-standing employees
  • Interaction with colleagues
    canteens, cigarette breaks etc are fertile ground for reinforcing compliance with the company culture

Culture Types

To be able to adapt to any form of change requires an innovative, responsive and flexible culture. Easy to say, tough to achieve in companies where the management approach has evolved from militaristic models of organisation.

Deeply embedded culture types which block change are:

  • Conventional Culture
    conservative, bureaucratic; employees are expected to conform, follow the rules
  • Control Culture
    hierarchically controlled and un-participative; centralised decision-making leads employees to do only what they’re told
  • Competitive Culture
    all about winning; employees are rewarded for working against not with each other

Cultural Clues

A structure for assessing a company’s culture:

  • Visible Artefacts/Symbols
    is the technology out of date or leading edge? how casual is the dress code? is the office layout open plan or rabbit hutches? what kind of company cars are they driving? Do managers eat in the staff canteen?
  • Communications/Language
    are superiors and subordinates on first name terms? what is the level of humour – if any? is the corporate newsletter chatty with non work-related information or full of management-speak, sticking strictly to work issues?
  • Routines/Rituals
    are meetings ad hoc or planned and structured? what does the company induction comprise? how lively, frequent, formal are company ‘bashes’?
  • Control systems/Incentives
    is the emphasis on individual or group targets? what quality controls are there? how is staff time monitored?
  • Stories/Myths
    what constitutes a success story in the company’s eyes? how do people describe their work? what images are held of the leadership? what’s the company’s reputation?
  • Power Structure/Hierarchy
    what are the job titles? Where does accountability lie? How do employees react to different senior managers? What is the decision making process?
  • Values/Beliefs
    What do employees understand the mission or purpose of the company to be? What are the company values? Are they apparent in staff behaviour? Which areas have most respect? What is the attitude towards customers?

Spotting the signs

Microsoft is an example of an informal culture – one visitor to the company observed a group of programmers in bathing suits discussing software bugs over a game of volleyball in the hallway.

Japanese cosmetics company Kao has a culture built on trust – all employees have access to the organisation’s entire computerised information system, and can even check up on the President’s expense account.

Discipline and support are central to Intel’s culture – every meeting follows an agenda and closes with a firm decision; discussion or dissent is not discouraged, but once an issue is fully aired, people are expected to commit; also, by deliberately backing more than one potential solution to a problem, Intel increases its chances of ultimately finding a winner; but to maintain the commitment of an unsuccessful team and its willingness to take risks, management celebrates discoveries made along the ‘road not taken’

Cultural Keys

Corporate cultures where change can thrive have four factors in common:

  1. Discipline
    i.e. consistency, follow-through, honest communication of results, documentation, working through a process; while compliance can kill off any attempt at change, discipline can help drive change through, and deliver results
  2. Trust
    people resist change when they think it opposes their interests; there must be transparency about who gains, who loses, what the benefits are, and to whom they accrue; without trust, employees will not take the risks necessary to change
  3. Support
    unlike a command-and-control culture, employees lend each other a helping hand through coaching, personal development, praise for a job well done
  4. Stretch
    stimulates employees to strive for more ambitious objectives; raises their expectations of themselves and others; employees encouraged to strive voluntarily to meet and beat their own goals