Once the herd starts moving in one direction, it’s very hard to turn it, even slightly. ~Dan Rather (journalist and former CBS News Anchor)
I grew up at the dawn of the television era and watched intently as Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and other professional journalists commented on the news of the world. I’ve always liked this quote by Dan Rather as it reminds me that once a belief gets started about something, it’s hard for new facts to change that opinion.
The Herd of Culture Audits
For the past several decades in the business literature and academic journals there has been a plethora of writing, talking and consulting around “corporate culture audits”. While there is no common agreed upon definition of corporate culture by academics and professionals, there are an amazing good number of culture audits on the market. In fact, by my last count there are over 70 different culture assessment tools (surveys, audits, etc.) available (see LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture)
What is fascinating to me is that while they each measure slightly different aspects of what they call corporate culture, the majority measure them in exactly the same way. They use a questionnaire given to various levels within the organisation and ask the individuals to score each question, usually on a numerical scale from “least like the culture” to “most like the culture”. Then they aggregate all the scores, take an average and bingo! A culture profile is developed which supposedly describes the overall corporate culture.
Are we asking the wrong question?
But what if there isn’t one overall culture, but actually numerous subcultures (some strong and others weaker) in a company? Blending all these subcultures into an overall average corporate culture profile could be missing a lot of valuable information to help understand how culture and performance are related and also understand the levers required to reshape culture.
After over 30 years studying corporate culture in numerous industries (nuclear power, retail, transportation, manufacturing, defence electronics and FMCG), I am convinced that there is no such thing as an overall corporate culture but instead an organisation is comprised of numerous subcultures. In rare cases the subcultures are aligned and in synch with the overall goals and values espoused by leadership. In most cases, there is misalignment and senior management wonders why execution is so difficult.
The Herd Keeps Moving On
In this modern era of consumer niche identification and targeted marketing that has proven so effective from digital retailers to presidential campaigns, why do business leaders continue to use massive, one-message-fits-all, top down culture change communications and workshops in an attempt to change culture? First of all, it doesn’t work well (see LEVERAGE: The CEOs Guide to Corporate Culture) and secondly, it totally overlooks the fact that organisations are really a collection of subcultures with their own beliefs, interests and leaders.
There is no one overall corporate culture!
The real leverage to reshaping culture is to identify and understand the strong subcultures that exist within the company and then recruit the “informal leaders” and key influencers within those subcultures as your change agents. The real fact is, employees trust their peers and the informal leaders for information and guidance far more than they trust management!
We have been asking the wrong question: It’s not “what is our corporate culture?”, but instead “where is our corporate culture?”
We now have the technology, through a special Social Network Analysis algorithm and organisational framework, to map the various subcultures and pinpoint not only where they are inside the organisation, but also pinpoint which individuals are the key cultural influencers.
This pioneering work, conducted under the direction of Dr. Leandro Hererro (author of two groundbreaking books: Viral Change and Homo Imitans) and with the assistance of a group of Eastern European software geniuses, is beginning to give us the vital insights required to truly understand and effectively reshape corporate cultures.
In future blogs I will talk more about the importance of subcultures, informal leaders, Social Network Analysis and culture change.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! (popularly attributed to Einstein but probably first penned by author and feminist Rita Mae Brown in her book, Sudden Death)
Thanks for joining the conversation!
John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
+44-7833-493-999 uk mobile
Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
PS: John also writes thriller novels