Johan Kotze stuur vir my hierdie wonderlike insigryke artikel oor kultuurtransformasie deur Jon Katzenbach en Achley Harshak. Dit is eenvoudig van die beste artikels wat ek nog gelees het oor die transformasie van kultuur!
Stop Blaming Your Culture
Start using it instead — to reinforce and build the new behaviours that will give you the high-performance company you want.
by Jon Katzenbach and Ashley Harshak
When Alfred M. (Al) Gray Jr. became commandant (the highest-ranking officer) of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1987, most knowledgeable observers believed that the Corps’s fabled “warrior spirit” culture was already damaged beyond repair. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Corps had grown from its historic level of 75,000 regulars to more than 200,000, and its values and discipline had eroded. It would have been easy for Gray to blame the damaged organizational culture for the problems he inherited, and to launch a formal, full-scale change initiative. But instead, he began to praise and seek out elements of the old Corps culture, such as its ethic of mutual respect. For example, he regularly slipped into the mess halls without insignia, so he would be served the same meals as the privates. To this day, Al Gray is the only Marine Corps commandant portrayed in battle fatigues in his formal portrait in the Pentagon. He is one of the most respected leaders in the Marines’ 250-year history.
Leaders like Gray understand the value of an organization’s culture. This can be defined as the set of deeply embedded, self-reinforcing behaviours, beliefs, and mind-sets that determine “how we do things around here.” People within an organizational culture share a tacit understanding of the way the world works, their place in it, the informal and formal dimensions of their workplace, and the value of their actions. Though it seems intangible, the culture has a substantial influence on everyday actions and on performance.
Organizational cultures don’t change very quickly. Therefore, if you are seeking change in your company or institution, you are most likely to succeed using your existing culture to help you change the behaviours that matter most. Bit by bit, as these new behaviours prove their value through business results, the culture you have can evolve into the culture you need.
Blame and Its Alternatives
When a new leader’s strategy puts the culture of a company at risk, the culture will trump the strategy, almost every time. There are good reasons for this. Every company’s identity — the body of capabilities and practices that distinguish it and make it effective — is grounded in the way people think and behave. Deeply embedded cultural influences tend to persist; they change far more slowly than marketplace factors, and cause significant morale problems when not addressed effectively. When your strategy and culture clash visibly, more likely than not, the culture is trying to tell you something about your own leadership philosophy.
But many leaders overlook this message. They blame the company’s culture for the resistance they encounter. In the most extreme cases, they assume an explicit mandate for wholesale cultural change. This leads them to remove key leaders and old practices, restructure operations, set in place new rewards and promotions, and announce other across-the-board programmatic changes. This approach is costly, disruptive, and risky. Moreover, it takes years to accomplish. Working in a culture that is under attack reduces employees’ energy and de-motivates them. It may require a major marketplace or economic disruption to get people to buy in. Clearly, this is not a game for the faint of heart. Worst of all, it is rarely successful; few major corporate transformations, especially those involving a wholesale change in the culture, achieve their intended performance goals.
Alternatively, leaders may try to ignore their culture and act as if it isn’t important. But when overlooked, the hidden power of a company’s culture can thwart any leader’s strategic aspirations. No matter how many top-down directives you issue, they will rarely be executed, at least not with the emotional commitment and consistency needed to make them successful.
This is not to say that your existing culture is sacrosanct. Indeed, many companies need some kind of culture change. There are passive-aggressive cultures where people routinely fail to follow through on their agreements, creative but undisciplined cultures where talented people pull in different directions, and highly politicized bureaucratic cultures that must bear the expense of their heavy-handed management style.
But when you fight your culture head-on or ignore it altogether during a change initiative, you lose the chance of reviving some of the attitudes and behaviours that once made your company powerful — and might do so again. Several studies (including one conducted by Booz & Company and the Bertelsmann Foundation in 2004) suggest a correlation between financial results and a strong, inspiring organizational culture. The correlation is hardly surprising; after all, cultures influence and energize the behaviours that matter most. Procter & Gamble, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Tata, Starbucks, and FedEx are among the household-name companies noted for unique cultures that contribute significantly to their competitive advantage.
Fortunately, there is an effective, accessible way to deal with cultural challenges. Don’t blame your culture; use it purposefully. View it as an asset: a source of energy, pride, and motivation. Learn to work with it and within it. Discern the elements of the culture that are congruent with your strategy. Figure out which of the old constructive behaviours embedded in your culture can be applied to accelerate the changes that you want. Find ways to counterbalance and diminish other elements of the culture that hinder you. In this way, you can initiate, accelerate, and sustain truly beneficial change — with far less effort, time, and expense, and with better results, than many executives expect.
Edgar H. Schein, author of The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (rev. ed., Jossey-Bass, 2009) and a leading authority on organizational culture, tells a story that illustrates the unexpected leverage this approach offers. (See “A Corporate Climate of Mutual Help,” by Art Kleiner and Rutger von Post, s+b, Spring 2011.) Three senior executives of a large manufacturing company — the CEO, chief operating officer (COO), and head of organizational development — visited him, seeking advice on building a more dynamic culture. “Just yesterday,” said the COO, “I had my regular meeting with subordinates. We have a big circular room, and everybody sits in the same place each time. But get this — only four people were present this time, and they still sat at the far ends of this great big table. Do you see what I’m up against?”
“What did you do about it?” asked Schein.
The executives responded at first with blank stares. Then they realized they were part of the system they were blaming. The COO could have made a small but significant change simply by asking the four of them to move their chairs. Better yet, he could ask the full team to vary their seating at the next meeting. The executives spent the next several hours figuring out other minor actions of that sort, which they put in place the following week, with great success.
Myths of Culture Change
Why don’t corporate leaders naturally respond to culture in this productive way? Because of several myths about culture change that have become prevalent in the business world. Each of these assumptions leads to treacherous pitfalls.
• “Our culture is the root of all our problems.” This becomes an all-purpose, convenient excuse for performance shortfalls. “Our process-oriented culture inhibits collaboration,” managers say. Or “our long-standing beliefs about nurturing people make us coddle weak performers.” Underlying this myth is a view that attitudes and beliefs shape people’s behaviour. This view ignores the realities of organizational culture. As we’ll see, behaviour can influence beliefs at least as much as the other way around.
• “We don’t really know how to change our culture, so let’s escape it.”There’s a long tradition, going back to Lockheed Aircraft’s Skunk Works in the 1940s, of creating pockets of entrepreneurial activity for high-performance results. These are explicitly intended to operate outside the prevailing culture. They may thrive for a few years, but they are typically treated as outliers by the rest of the company. Eventually, they are either spun off or absorbed back into the mainstream, succumbing to the company’s cultural malaise. “Our culture kills even our most innovative efforts” thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the most famous of these efforts was General Motors’ ill-fated Saturn brand, modelled after the culture of Japanese automakers and set up to run separately and independently — but eventually overtaken by GM’s culture.
• “Leave culture to the people professionals.” Executives with an engineering, finance, or technology background often feel ill-equipped to deal with cultural issues. They delegate them to their human resources, organizational development, or communications teams. “It’s all about the ‘soft’ side,” say the executives. “We have to improve our employee engagement scores.” But the quality of the culture is as much a product of the “hard” side of the organization (strategies, structures, processes, and programs) as it is of the soft side (beliefs, opinions, feelings, networks, and communities of common interest). Although your internal professionals can measure and monitor behaviour as well as advise line management on culture issues, they cannot motivate, execute, or implement strategic or performance imperatives. Ensuring behaviour change that drives competitive advantage is the role of line leaders at multiple levels.
• “Culture is the job of the top leaders.” It is very powerful when the CEO and other top executives take explicit personal accountability for the company’s culture. But senior leaders cannot change cultures by themselves. They operate at such a large scale, and with such broad visibility, that they cannot directly motivate people to implement the specific practices and behaviours that are required. To succeed with a culture intervention, top leaders need the support of many leaders down the line — particularly those who have daily contact with the people whose behaviour change is most critical.
Sometimes, this myth manifests itself at the board level. Directors assume that the only way to improve performance is to replace the current CEO with another top leader who can bring forth a new and better culture. Because they are looking for someone who promises major change, the company inevitably gets a full-scale culture overhaul — with all the expense, risk, disruption, and likely failure involved.
Working with and within Your Culture
Each of these myths plays out differently. But underlying all of them is a big dose of defeatism. Culture is thought to be too big to ignore, too tough to conquer, and too soft to understand (at least by typical managers). Thinking this way, especially when there have been previous culture change disappointments, is enough to sap your energy and enthusiasm for change. It can squelch any realistic effort toward high performance before you gain the momentum necessary for sustainable success.
By contrast, working with and within a culture is sensible, practical, and effective. Thus, it is inherently energizing. When leaders learn to operate this way, their employees tend to become more productive and their own efforts become more rewarding.
The first thing to change is the view that, as a leader, you can fix your culture by working on it directly. Rarely is that the case. Just as you typically can’t argue someone out of a deeply held belief, you can’t force people to change the way they think and feel about their work. Instead, you need to focus on specific behaviours that solve real problems and deliver real results. This, in turn, enables people to experience the results of thinking differently. Experience becomes a better teacher than logical argument.
Imagine that you were an advisor from an industrialized nation, sent to a remote island village to help local farmers improve their productivity. Would you start by trying to overhaul their culture to be more like your country’s culture? Or would you set out to learn more about the way they thought, looking for connections to your ideas, giving them reasons to feel confident about trying something new? The former approach might make you feel more important at first, but it would likely fail — or at best, take years to accomplish. In contrast, offering a few new methods might generate an approving early response, and those practices would spread as they produced results. The same is true in your company.
As Schein puts it, “Always think first of the culture as your source of strength.” Tapping into the emotionally gripping aspects of your existing culture can accelerate performance. For example, a deep commitment to customer service may exist, even in companies that are losing customers. This can be drawn upon in efforts to improve customer retention rates. The ability to diagnose the beneficial attributes of a culture, and then use them to motivate strategically important behaviour, is one of the key factors that differentiate peak-performing organizations from the also-rans in their field.
A corporate culture takes some of its attributes from the professional and educational background of participants. An electronics engineering–driven company like Hewlett-Packard has a very different cultural ambiance from a pharmaceutical firm like Pfizer, a bank like JPMorgan Chase, or a “metal-bending” manufacturer like GM. Culture is also influenced by the attitudes of the founders, the location of the headquarters, the types of customers that the company serves, and the experiences people have together. That’s why different companies in the same broad industry, such as HP, Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Acer, IBM, and Dell, can succeed with such different cultures. Within an overarching corporate culture, there are generally several subcultures, each with its own unique elements. Schein writes that these can include an operational culture, spurred by line managers eager to get the most out of their people; a senior executive culture, grounded in financial insight and training; and an engineering culture, in which attention is focused on the technology.
To understand your culture, you need to pay close attention to its quiet, sometimes hidden, manifestations, such as the side conversations in the hallways, the informal consultations behind closed doors, and the incisive guidance that people get when they ask one another for advice. It is also evident in the formal lines of the organization chart and the ways in which directives are worded. Cultures can be diagnosed best by the work behaviours they promote. Do people collaborate easily? Do they make decisions individually or in groups? Are they open with their information? Do they reflect on successes and failures and learn from them?
As you move from diagnosing to improving behaviours, focus first on the few critical changes that matter most and support getting the work done, thereby accelerating the results you want. Make use of both formal and informal mechanisms.