Corporate Culture : What’s All The Fuss About?
I never cease to be amazed at how certain topics or frameworks enter the business lexicon merchandised as “The Next Big Thing”.
We’ve all seen how that pendulum has swung backwards and forwards from concepts like Total Quality, Lean, Six Sigma, Purpose, Blue Ocean, NPS, Employee Engagement and so on. Each concept has had its zealots and each, its detractors.
That’s hardly surprising.
As a senior executive, each concept carries an unambiguous promise of success and corporate glory. If Jack Welch transformed GE with Six Sigma why shouldn’t I be trying that here? If every second status I see on LinkedIn, or bookshelf at the airport, tells me it is as simple as “Starting With Why” how can I not throw every ounce of corporate energy into defining our Why?
Today, I feel that the “concept” of Corporate Culture is entering into that same apex. With 377,000 links on HBR alone, it’s definitely a well-debated and well-researched business concept.
And then there’s this recent gem from John Traphagan posted on April 21st. His eloquently stated POV is that “Culture” is actually a misnomer and, because a Culture is constantly changing to address situations in the marketplace, by trying to define it we actually ossify (his phrase) something that can’t be defined, quantified or qualified. His heartfelt request is that we all should drop the notion of “Corporate Culture” from our endeavours – or at least come up with a term that better encapsulates this constantly evolving and morphing entity called “culture”
He may have a point.
And, having experienced some of these reactions when the topic of Culture comes up, I can see how some people might become Traphagan-zealots. (You think it is too early to trademark that phrase?)
“But I already measure my Employee Engagement, doesn’t that give me a read on my Culture?”
“I’ve got over 5,000 employees scattered across the country, how do you possibly get all their inputs?”
“I’ve been telling them that we’re a Learning Organization in my weekly emails, surely that means we have a Learning Culture”
“My employees know what’s expected of them. And I can always replace the one’s who can’t get with the program”
At our consultancy, we have a pretty straightforward view on why measuring Culture is important. And a simple objective when we do this type of work.
“Does Your Culture align with Your Corporate Strategy?”
By way of example…if your category has becoming increasingly competitive and under threat of disruption (and name one that hasn’t) is your current Culture an accelerant or impediment to tackling that?
Does your embedded Culture of vigorous debate, consensus-building and an obsession on researching absolutely everything, help or hinder you when your Strategy calls for rapid prototyping and responsiveness?
Wouldn’t you like to know where, and why, those behaviours and actions are taking place? Wouldn’t you love to understand how you might refine and modify some of those behaviours?
Here’s where we absolutely agree with Professor Traphagan.
Measuring, qualifying and quantifying an entire Culture is a vainglory effort. And it is certainly as likely to end in success as King Canute’s efforts.
To the questions listed above, here’s how we’d ordinarily respond.
Employee Engagement is a measurement of outcome. It doesn’t tackle the underlying symptoms. Its tantamount to thinking NPS accurately defines the depth and complexity of each and every customer relationship.
Communications alone isn’t enough to drive Culture formation. It requires a deep and strategically-driven plan to embed the behaviours you want within your organization. Again a series of C-Suite exhortations alone is like expecting behaviours to change because you put some posters in the washroom and emblazon “Customer Service is #1” on the golf shirts of your Sales team.
Sadly we don’t have a deeply considered response for executives who consider their employees replaceable widgets. Other than feely a deep empathy for the employees of said company.
We subscribe to the view that an organization whose employees understand exactly what’s expected of them and exactly what their role is have higher levels of cohesion and higher levels of motivation. And that, typically, results in better results in market.
So is Company Culture worth fussing over? Our unqualified answer is “Absolutely”
But…only if you’re obsessing about how your Culture can become an accelerant for your Strategy.
If not, then like Professor Traphagan, we might suggest there’s little upside to opening Pandora’s box.