Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Culture: It's all about the journey.

For this week’s entry, I have once again taken the plunge back into my college years to discuss one of my favorite topics, culture and its impact on business. I find cultures within business fascinating because they often get ignored in favor of more tangible things like financials. I suppose it’s, my roots as a Western Pennsylvanian and a hockey fan that make me believe that the intangibles are just as valuable as the tangibles. Culture is sort of the ultimate intangible. While changes in it can at times be quantified through increases or decreases in company performance, its effects are so wide spread I find it hard to believe all of them can be measured.

The article “From Strategy to Implementation” in this weeks reading as well as this article entitled, “Culture makes a meal of strategy during a recession” (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10720407) both make arguments for the value of culture in strategy. In the NZHerald article, JRA consultant Eunice Oh makes the point, “It is vital that organizations focus on creating a great workplace culture. Oh concludes this will "place organizations in an advantageous position in the talent war which will emerge as the economy begins to strengthen”. Similarly in the Strategy to Implementation article argues that companies with stronger leadership and cultures are better aligned and their strategies are more likely to play out how they are envisioned.

I think it is obvious that companies with strong cultures are considered better places to work and are more likely to draw the attention of top candidates for various positions. But this brings me to my question, how does one build culture effectively? To answer this I look back to my operational excellence background. In college I minored in Operational Excellence and one of the key issues we continuously focused on was culture. No major changes will ever occur without the company culture supporting them.

Culture is experiential. It is not learned; it’s experienced through doing. Day in and day out, repeatedly engaging in behavior that promotes new culture. Over time employees begin to assimilate that behavior into his attitudes. As superiors reward these new attitudes, they eventually become part of one’s deep learning cycle creating beliefs and values. At this point the culture has become part of who that employee is as a person. People are no longer acting a certain way because they’ve been told it is the correct way to act. Instead, those actions are natural, they are instinctual, and are in harmony with the new culture. In general, I feel the only way to effectively create and sustain a culture within a company is to grow and nourish it in this manner, than try and force it upon employees through classes, slogans or banners. What do you think?

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