“They swore by concrete. They built for eternity.”
― Gunter Grass
Concrete is the most widely used building material, by tonnage, in the world today. And it’s not a modern building material either. The first known use of concrete was some 12.000 years ago and many of the Roman buildings incorporated this easy to use material, resulting is new architectural concepts and designs, as well as long-lasting structures.
What makes concrete so useful in both ancient and modern construction is the fact that it starts out as a fluid solution able to take the form of anything it is poured into, yet soon turns solid, with great density and strength. One drawback of concrete is that it is extremely difficult to pour new concrete onto old, hard concrete and get a good connection. The two different aged concretes don’t seem to bond together and this creates on of the structural weaknesses, thus the use of internal rebar in most modern concrete structures.
Concrete and Corporate Culture:
In many ways, corporate culture is similar to concrete. Early in the development of a company the values, beliefs and personalities of the founders easily blend together to form the informal “rules” of how we should work together and treat customers. These working rules and ways of behaving are soon codified into processes, policies, and procedures. Before long, there are policy hand books and new employees look to the older, established staff for clues on how to fit in. And before long, the social fabric and informal rules of how to behave and fit in take on a strength and life of their own. The culture tends to harden, behaviour patterns and ways of working are “set in stone” so to speak.
Once a culture ossifies and hardens, new ideas and ways of working, new procedures, even new technologies, are difficult to blend in. Like the poor bonding between old and new concrete, the old culture tends to reject new ideas. They don’t stick. People who don’t fit the culture tend to leave. Research into why newly hired executives leave a company after only a few months reveals a culture rejection mechanism at work.
And culture change programmes also tend to fail. The original culture is so pervasive that it has seeped into every element of daily life inside a company and hardened like concrete. A consultant-inspired top down culture change workshop fails to reshape the old culture. Rebranding exercises, new logos, store renovations, new CRM software and developing new “Core Values” are all weak attempts to change the old culture.
Even in drastic circumstances, like a near bankruptcy and turnaround, financial reengineering and a new business model may save the company from demise, but the old culture tends to remain and soon the resuscitated company is back on the doorstep of death again. Continental Airlines was approaching its third bankruptcy in 1994, each of the two previous infusions of cash and new leadership didn’t change the solid rock culture of negativity and cynicism.
There are ways to reshape corporate culture, but it is not an easy task and requires a unique knowledge of the levers that most influence and reshape ingrained, solidified behaviours.
Written and Posted by: 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
John also writes thriller novels!