I’m sure I’ll offend someone with this post, but here goes. For years, I have seriously questioned whether you can change a culture. To me, the culture is the culture. Even so, there are lots of consultants who make good money advising clients on how to change their culture (by the way, some of these consultants are good friends of mine). On March 21, 2016, I posted “How the Mighty Fall” about Arthur Andersen, a company that for decades had an amazing culture, but still failed (read the post). AA, as we called them, had a great culture. What happened?
Well, I recently read “Culture is Not the Culprit“ in the April 2016 Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2016/04/culture-is-not-the-culprit) and had an epiphany. The authors, Jay Lorsch (whom I had the privilege of interacting with at a Harvard executive program) and Emily McTague, said: “… culture is not something you ‘fix.’ Rather … cultural change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place … .”
I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like consultant mumbo jumbo, but it’s exactly what Alan Mulally did at Ford Motor Co., which the authors explain. In one of his first management meetings at Ford, Mulally found that all his direct reports brought their assistants to the meeting (picture two huge circles with the direct reports in the inner circle and their No. 2 in the outer circle). When a question came up, the direct reports would defer the answer to their No. 2. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mulally excused the assistants and then told the direct reports that, in the future, they needed to answer the questions — and the No. 2s were no longer invited.
Often, we want to make business more glamorous-sounding, but it’s a lot about accountability, taking responsibility, focusing on the customer/client, treating team members with respect, and what I like to call just basic blocking and tackling.
So, in simple English, don’t focus on the culture. Focus on doing the basics right. Take good care of the customer and your team members.
Are you thinking you need a culture change? If your answer is yes, are your basic processes working well? Really?
p.s. As I’ve said to many of you, it ain’t easy running a company.