One of the reasons The Economist magazine has been around since 1843 is its commitment to high standards of journalism as it continuously delivers on its purpose: “to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”. And its circulation is over 1.5 million readers worldwide.
Recently, in a review of a new business book, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, the Economist described the work as “a sensible approach in a charlatan-infested field” (The Economist (January 9, 2014.)
The many corporate culture consultants and psychologists pushing the growing fad of corporate culture assessments and culture change methodologies are up in arms at the suggestion that their work is the work of “charlatans”.
But, in my experience, most CEOs and senior executives agree. And employees who have to suffer top-down culture change “sheep-dip” programs tend to think senior management has lost touch with reality when its time for the vision and values culture change program. Some of the programs are actually very engaging and helpful with personal development and insights about teams and such important concepts as accountability or feedback and coaching. But very few of them actually shift the culture!
The reality, in contrast to what the culture consultants say, is that only about 20% of culture change programs actually deliver on their change objectives (Smith 2007)
Would you agree to surgery with only a 20% chance of success?
Where it all went wrong!
The biggest reason for this high failure rate of culture change programs is that most CEOs and executives don’t really understand what corporate culture is, where it comes from and what are the change levers. And almost all culture consultants are working from a fundamentally flawed premise.
Their belief is: culture is made up of shared employee values and culture change is about instilling a new set of values from top to bottom!
And if you review the extensive academic literature on corporate culture you will find nearly everyone describing corporate culture as Values or Shared Values! It all started with the Peters and Waterman 1982 best-selling book, In Search of Excellence, and just snowballed from there.
A Different Point of View.
First of all, people have values, not companies. Corporate culture is a collection of habitual and accepted behaviours used to interact with colleagues, solve business problems and deal with customers. How people routinely act and behave defines the culture, not printed corporate values statements.
It is extremely rare that people inside a large company share the same “values”. Today’s modern businesses are more diverse than ever before, with employees from various religions, backgrounds and national cultures working together. And depending upon your upbringing, the stated “value” of respect for others can have a very different meaning to an employee from a Japanese family than someone from the south side of Chicago!
When an individual joins a new company, whether as an entry-level employee or a senior executive, they don’t easily change their personal values, but they can and do change their work behaviours. And most employees want to “fit in” to their new department or subculture.
Corporate culture is defined by habitual behaviours, not written value statements! The concept of corporate culture being about values is neither accurate or helpful to the CEO or business leader who wants to develop a high performance organisation.
Culture change is the replacement of one set of “accepted and frequently used behaviours” for another.
When executives and employees roll their eyes at the mention of redefining the “corporate values” and launching a top-down culture change program, you know it’s time for a rethink! There is a better way!
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.
John also writes thriller novels: novels.johnrchildress.com