Culture Change and Business Process - Solution Approach No. 1

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Perhaps you recall my recent article  - “Culture Matters.” Included in the article were approaches that my colleagues and I had used over the years to support change and transformation in a variety of organizations. I had listed various approaches and the first bullet in that article was:

    Study the existing corporate culture paying close attention to the mission statement, corporate values statement, and company goals. Find a way to frame the business process effort as a project that is consistent with the existing paradigm.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? In practice, it is more involved. This article explores culture change in further.

How do you study an existing corporate culture? Interpreting corporate culture calls for a very objective analysis of something that is, frankly, subjective. Adopting a pre-defined structured approach helps make the analysis as objective as possible.

Below is a list of different channels you can use to get better insight into how deeply embedded a corporate culture is in the enterprise.

  • Gather all existing materials (brochures, posters, new employee packets, college recruiting packets, media kits, web site) provided to employees, applicants, suppliers, and the public about the company’s mission, goals, corporate values, history, and culture.
  • Review employment and education backgrounds of managerial employees.
  • Prepare a survey with questions that afford insight into whether the materials and employee/manager behavior are consistent.
  • Conduct short interviews with selected senior managers and executive leadership to ascertain how well, or poorly, they model the desired behavior and actions to support the stated corporate culture.
  • Interview selected supplier representatives and customers to understand how the corporate culture is reflected outward.

What is the value of each of these channels when you sift through all of this data and attempt to build a “photograph” of the company’s existing culture?

First, published materials tell you what the organization’s leaders aspire to and want the world at large to believe. As an example, take a look at the Southwest Airlines web site. If you click the link “Our History” and read the content organized by date, you can find out that Southwest formed a Culture Committee in January 1990. Considering that, outside of academic circles, there were few serious discussions about corporate culture, this information might lead you to think that Southwest Airlines is a forward thinking organization with a strong culture.

Second, employment and educational backgrounds can provide insight into cultural “fit” between individuals and the business. If there is a pattern of hiring from a particular group of educational institutions or a set of former employers, this fact can help you appreciate nuances in the existing corporate culture.

While this information was more difficult to obtain in the past, today you can browse through LinkedIn, Spoke, InsideView, and a variety of web sites to give you information about educational or prior employment preferences. Professional service firms (law, accounting, engineering, and architecture) are especially good examples of the value of this particular channel.

With properly designed questions, a survey administered to all employees can yield a tremendous amount of data regarding the existing corporate culture in actual practice. Surveys can assist with gaining a sense of how invested the corporate body is in the current corporate values and mission, as well as how that investment drives behavior. Even the percentage of respondents, coupled with responses, can give you a sense of an organization and its culture.

To supplement this data further, short interviews, i.e., no longer than thirty minutes, can assist with a deeper understanding of how managers perceive their role with regard to promoting and furthering the corporate culture. Also, it is possible to infer from their answers to your questions how well, or poorly, they support the corporate culture.

The last item in this research–based approach is talking with supplier representatives and customers will help you evaluate how well, or poorly, the corporate culture extends out to the enterprise’s ecosystem.

When all of this data and information is assembled, you will obtain a much clearer focus on the existing corporate culture.  You will have a sense of how strong it is, where its strengths and weaknesses lie, which communication channels are effective, how far the culture extends, and how adaptable it is likely to be.

All of this information and understanding will play a significant role in how you develop your business case for business process, structure your “pitch” including key messages, and encourage the corporate body to “get onboard.”

Another advantage that can arise from all of this preliminary work is that an executive champion can be identified. Having engaged in this exercise several times, it becomes very clear which executive manager, sometimes managers, is likely to be supportive, see the vision, and be willing to “lead the charge.”

Finally, and let’s be clear, this approach can be effective. The research portion can be completed in a matter of months, depending upon the size of the enterprise. The implementation phase, however, can take longer, frequently three to five years. This approach has been used in large, bureaucratic environments, as well as medium-sized ones.

However, without an executive champion, the entire effort is likely to go nowhere.


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