What Is It Worth to Understand Culture?
I've given much thought to the whole concept of corporate culture: What is it? Why is it important to understand? How does it relate to strategy and affect business outcomes? I've been in job situations where I recognized "I just wasn't a good fit" and I've observed this phenomenon with others; perfectly talented individuals who don't seem to perform well. It had nothing to do with competency. It had to do with the environment in which I/they worked. As a matter of fact, within the same company with the same job title, I found myself being a good fit and a high performer and a bad fit with average performance depending on where I landed at the end of any given re-org. How could this be?
What is culture? Simply, it is the culmination of shared values, assumptions, and beliefs tacitly and/or explicitly expressed within an organization. Why is it important to understand? Because, it determines how people behave and how work gets done. Let's consider how values and beliefs drive behavior using a consumer analogy: I need milk. The convenience store is closer than the grocery store (I value my time), but it is more expensive (I'm frugal). The grocery store offers more options (I value choice). I decide choice and price are more important than convenience, so I drive to the grocery store. While there, I evaluate my options: Whole milk is tasty, but I am weight conscious so I eliminate that option. While I am frugal, I am also health conscious. Although soy milk is more expensive it has additional perceived health benefits, so I choose soy. While, at some point, these decisions were conscious, as long as all factors remain the same and the reward for my behavior is greater than the cost, I continue to behave consistently and, eventually, subconsciously. What happens when my grocery store discontinues soy milk, the price goes up, or traffic becomes unbearable? Suddenly, I am forced to re-evaluate my behaviors to stay consistent with my values in order to achieve the outcome I find desirable.
What does this example have to do with corporate culture? First, we must recognize that the same values driving individuals' buying behaviors also drive their behaviors at work. We should ask ourselves, then, "Why don't we spend as much time analyzing the values of our talent pool to predict on-the-job performance and satisfaction as marketers do the values and emotional drivers of their target market to determine buying behaviors and loyalty?" Second, employees will behave in accordance with their values, regardless of your business strategy. Hence, the reason culture must be aligned with strategy. If, for example, your aggressive, high growth business strategy creates an unstable environment that requires individuals to take risks, an individual valuing stability, security and consistency will feel anxious and begin to seek ways to remedy their discomfort. In some cases, they are able to adapt and learn the behaviors necessary to succeed. In others, the personal transformation is simply not possible and they fail. The best way to avoid this is to determine "fit" during the selection process. However, just as your strategy changes throughout the life of your business, so must your culture. Changing your culture is not impossible, as many would believe. You just have to carefully evaluate and adjust the factors that influence culture, such as your systems (reward, IT), structure (reporting, physical), policies, HR practices (selection, training), communication, leadership-style, etc ... As Tom says, "Culture change, that elusive goal, can be achieved one project at a time."
Brand You Road Trip
After the success of our public Brand You session in Boston, we have decided to bring the experience to others as well. You may already know about our session in Denver, CO, on August 1, in which we are partnering with Arapahoe Communiy College. For more information on that event, click here.
Additionally, we are finalizing plans for an event for early October in Dallas, TX. For more information on either event, or the Brand You program in general, please contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everybody's favorite Cool Friend, Seth Godin, returns to talk about his newest book, The Dip: The Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), and his latest website success, www.squidoo.com, where you can build a page about your passion in 4.2 minutes or less. Read Seth's third Cool Friends interview here. Welcome back, Seth!
Rodrigo González Fernández
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