THE MAIN POINT (92 seconds reading time)
Interpreting an organization’s culture tells you a lot about the organization, its leadership, its people, and perhaps its performance. Knowing the culture can help leaders to make effective changes. Harold Kurstedt(Above diagram by Deal and Kennedy in “Corporate Cultures.”) Why diagnose culture? You can diagnose the culture of an organization for both personal and professional reasons. When you work for an organization, you want your personal values to align with the organization’s values – provided, of course, you know your personal values. If your personal values are at odds with the organization’s values, you’ll be an active or latent maverick. Unless you like fighting the system and being a lightning rod for the organization, you don’t want to be a maverick. (If you’d like an exercise to help you determine your personal values, let me know and I’ll send it to you.)
When you design management tools for an organization (plans, policies, structures, processes, culture, etc.), you want all management tools to work together and not at odds with each other. The organizational culture takes much time and effort to change, so you want to know the culture before you decide on a plan for developing any management tool.
When do you diagnose culture? The simple answer is: All the time. Interpreting an organization’s culture tells you a lot about the organization, its leadership, its people, and perhaps its performance. Some people believe culture type and strength of culture can be a predictor of its performance. I’m one of those people. The first time you should diagnose the culture of an organization is when you interview for a job.
A number of people have attempted to classify cultures so you can fit your organization into the classification. Similar to the classification for uncertainty from our most recent thought of the week, an organization will have characteristics of more than one culture type category. That is, we’d expect the organization to display a spectrum over the classification framework. (Your organization will fit several categories more or less, but will typically fit one category most.)
I’ll use the framework of Deal and Kennedy (authors of Corporate Cultures) to demonstrate a classification scheme. Deal and Kennedy define categories as: “The tough-guy, macho culture. A world of individualists who regularly take high risks and get quick feedback on whether their actions were right or wrong. The work hard/play hard culture. Fun and action are the rule here, and employees take few risks, all with quick feedback; to succeed, the culture encourages them to maintain a high level of relatively low-risk activity. The bet-your-company culture. Cultures with big-stakes decisions, where years pass before employees know whether decisions have paid off. A high-risk, slow-feedback environment. The process culture. A world of little or no feedback where employees find it hard to measure what they do; instead they concentrate on how it’s done. We have another name for this culture when the processes get out of control – bureaucracy!”
THE FOLLOW UP ( 125 seconds reading time)
Before I elaborate on the four types, which one do you think your organization fits best? Is your work unit more one category and the larger organization more another category? In this case, your work unit may be counter-culture.
Examples of the tough-guy, macho culture type are police, fire fighters, construction, management consulting, entertainment, and marketing. The risk is high and feedback quick. The view is short-term where the focus is on speed, not endurance. The primary values include the employees. The perspective is to bet our careers and the primary culture element is heroes where the culture manager backs the stars. We find a mountain and climb it. The measure of worth is high stakes. We solve problems by deliberately setting up competing teams. Our message is that we back the winners because they come through for us. The stars produce results.
Examples of the work hard/play hard culture type are sales and manufacturing. The risk is low and feedback quick. The view is short-term where the focus is on persistence. The primary values include the clients. The perspective is bet our sales and the primary culture element is rites and rituals where the culture manager takes advantage of the frenetic pace. We find a need and fill it. The measure of worth is high volume. We solve problems by being an active and relentless driver of the problem-solving group. Our message is that our energy and togetherness make the whole engine go.
Examples of the bet-your-company culture type are capital goods, defense, and research and development. The risk is high and feedback slow. The view is long-term where the focus is on deliberateness and stamina. The primary values include the future. The perspective is bet our company and the primary culture element is business meetings where the culture manager makes sure all the bases are covered. We find a bet and engineer it or find a problem and outlast it. The measure of worth is long-term significant contribution. We solve problems by orchestrating tasks force to reinforce a sense of deliberateness in the decision-making process. Our message is that we’re going to get it right because we can’t run the risk of an error.
Examples of the process culture type are banks and insurance (traditionally), government, pharmaceuticals, and accounting departments. The risk is low and the feedback slow. The view is long-term where the focus is on protectiveness and caution. The primary values include technical perfection. The perspective is cover our rear and the primary culture element is red tape or reorganization focusing on titles and formalities where the culture manager manages by using processes. We find a process and document it where form exceeds substance. The measure of worth is survival. We solve problems by cultivating outside contacts assuring awareness in adequate time to solve a problem. We allow the process to manage itself toward a solution. Our message is that we’ll show great patience while the process works itself out. The right process will solve every problem.
Now, which type do you think your organization fits best? Can you see the cultural elements in the characteristics of the type? How might you view your work and how you interface with other work units differently as a result of your diagnosis? Do you see any gaps between the culture you experience and the culture your leaders espouse? How about gaps between the culture you experience and the culture you’d prefer to experience?
When we work with long-term clients with a client focus, the client’s culture can influence our culture. For example, government contractors can pick up a more-process-oriented culture because government organizations often require us to be process-oriented.