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How did we get into culture change?
We started our journey into the world of culture early in our careers when we were part of large organizations that launched new strategic initiatives with communications, training, people and structural changes. None of these approaches were sufficient to change the beliefs and behaviors that permeated these companies.
As strategy implementation consultants, we tried various approaches for organizational assessment over time, hoping to find the causal factors and levers for whole-system change more rapidly. We remained disappointed as these consumed significant amounts of client resource time in order to get substantive results. From this frustration came excitement when we realized that our research was revealing deep insights into the culture side of strategic change and that we had the potential to create efficient, effective tools and techniques for organizations to use to accelerate strategy implementation and improve performance. Now, with more than 10 years of research behind us and a robust set of diagnostic tools, we are here to help you.
Why don't you ask clients to identify an ‘Ideal Culture' as a basis for culture assessment?
Being immersed in the current context of the organization, with all of its history and tradition, makes it difficult for people to identify different beliefs, behaviors and practices that will be required for a shift in strategic direction, new growth area or organizational life stage. From our experience, when asked to describe an ideal culture, people inevitably list already well-developed organizational culture strengths and improvements to the downside of these strengths. Asking people to identify an ‘ideal' is like asking a farmed fish to identify what's needed for survival in the ocean.
We saw how difficult it is for people to describe an ideal culture when a client organization engaged in an initiative to identify this for its new strategy. The ideal culture they described would be amongst other things, ‘professional and polite'. A subsequent Culture-Strategy Fit Profile™ indicated that these attributes were exactly what the organization's culture strengths were, but that other culture attributes, quite different to the current culture, needed to be carefully introduced.
Do you compare culture to industry norms or benchmarks?
Some approaches to culture assessment provide results in terms of industry percentiles or quartiles. We believe that this approach fails to deliver the quality of information needed to break into new levels of performance and to create competitive advantage.
- Industry norms are broad and include organizations with a wide range of sizes, strategies and contexts; the result is a ‘blended' profile of an industry's culture which has little relevance for most firms
- Industry norms do not take into account internal and external contextual factors that interact to create an organization's unique personality or culture
- Industry norms do not account for strategies that are different or unique; different strategies often require different cultures
- Industry norms fail to define the ‘field of play' for culture change – the area where there is the greatest probability of sustained success
Consider our experience in assessing the culture-strategy fit of three similar-sized public relations firms. Each competed in exactly the same market but interestingly, each had different strategies and needs, from growth by acquisition to preparation for sale to niche marketing. While each firm had a high-performance culture to build on, their culture-strategy fit issues were dramatically different.
What's the ROI in achieving culture-strategy fit?
A significant body of research clearly indicates that organizational culture, and specifically the extent that it is aligned or not aligned with strategy, is the single most important factor in determining whether or not a strategy is successfully executed and performance goals achieved (i.e. Marks, 1999; Kotter & Heskett, 1992; Lee & Yu, 2004; Sorenson, 2002). Proofs of the long-term value of aligned, adaptive cultures can be seen in companies such as GE, Nucor, Nordstrom, United Parcel Service, Toyota and Intel and the ability of new entrants such as e-Bay and Starbucks to manage fast growth. Likewise the risks of allowing insularism, hubris and ‘noxious arrogance' (as one writer observed) to run rampant and ethical foundations to weaken are in the press daily.
When Work, Infrastructure and Culture are aligned, an organization's DNA can be leveraged for sector leadership, whether you are in government, industry or not-for-profit. Culture is the missing link - and that's what we're here to help with!