The nature of corporate culture has changed! It is no longer the corporate culture of Deal & Kennedy’s “Corporate Cultures, The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life”. It is so much more.

In a recent discussion on corporate culture, I was bombarded with questions from two sales executives who had just received news that a consulting firm was about to begin working with them to “invigorate” their culture so as to engage the field sales and service teams in making a very positive customer experience. In the past few months they had been merged with a new company that was well known for their passion for customer service. In announcing the acquisition the new owner had mentioned that they would be making them a “customer centric” company, similar to their other brands and consistent with their customer friendly businesses. Their questions were focused on what the consultants were going to change that could make all the differences being promised by the consultants and expected by the new owners.

Promises of improved productivity, teamwork, and customer relations seemed a bit exaggerated after a major investment in a new CRM and associated training had done little to correct these issues over the past three years. They were concerned that the investment in a culture project would end up spending a lot of money, making no improvements, and leave them years behind their competitors with nothing to show for their investment in time and money. Their biggest worry? The current sales team would be blamed for being stuck in their old ways and not accepting of the new way of doing things. They were anxious to get back to work. It wasn’t long before this conversation had spread up the organization to its new leader.

It took only a few minutes to realize that this leadership team, like most other leadership teams, had little understanding of contemporary corporate culture and the far ranging areas that culture now impacts. What has changed? When the organization experts talk about workforce engagement and how engaged companies outperform disengaged companies, the experts talk about culture as the force behind engaging the workforce. When the experts talk about customer experience, they talk about culture as the force behind customer experience. When they talk about attracting and retaining a high quality workforce and leadership team, they talk about culture as the deciding factor. In all cases, when the experts describe a high performing organization they talk about a high quality culture. Corporate culture is becoming the number one responsibility of the leadership team.

In our prior blog we defined corporate cultureas the reflection of the corporate leaders’ words actions, and artifacts expressed in the words, acts, and artifacts of the organization’s stakeholders where stakeholders are people with a vested interest in the organization. This means every organization has a corporate culture. It is what its leaders reflect in their words and deeds. In the 21st Century and the age of the internet an organization’s culture can become world renowned (or infamous) overnight. The new leadership team wanted to know what the consultants were going to do to change the culture and, at the same time, implement the expected operational changes.

As our discussion progressed, the new leader admitted that there had been little serious talk about culture in the organization in the seven years that he had been there, but if he were to describe their culture he would say that they had maintained a culture of customer service. It had not been formalized or documented anywhere but he felt that if and when the stakeholders were asked, they would say they exuded a customer centric culture.

There are five basic deliverables associated with every corporate cultural change project:

  • Description of the “ideal” culture,
  • Description of the “current” culture,
  • Description of the “gap” between the current and “ideal” cultures,
  • The “transition plan” (including budget) to fill the gap, and
  • Initial considerations for dealing publicly with culture violations.

The content of each one of these varies by the needs of the organization and leadership team in the simplicity or complexity of its culture and are usually prepared as part of the statement of work.

Understanding corporate culture is much like understanding an individual. There are many perspectives of who he or she really is. Similarly, there are many perspectives of what or “who” the corporate culture is. That makes sense. Corporations are made up of people. They should act like people. Unfortunately we know that understanding people is not always easy and understanding what two or more people are about is even more difficult.

Over the last thirty years many new tools, techniques, or frameworks have been developed to understand what an organization’s culture is telling us.

The most familiar of these tools is the Competing Values Framework (CVF)of Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn. It is one of our favorite tools and well documented on the internet in their book, “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture”and is the foundation for some of our organization change methodologies.

Next time: Competing Values Framework