When you visit or work in a successful company, they all have a special feel to them. It is unique and very noticeable. One element that makes this take place, from my perspective, is that successful companies institutionalize their culture without bureaucratizing it.
Struggling companies always have a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape and proliferation. They lack flexibility and initiative due to excessive adherence to regulations. This is particularly visible in the behavior of those in management and leadership positions, and how they interact with key systems.
Patrick Lencioni in his delightful book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Jossey-Bass, 2012, writes “Human systems are tools for reinforcement of clarity. They give an organization a structure for tying its operations, culture, and management together, even when leaders aren’t around to remind people.” Lencioni notes that this level of clarity takes place when leaders engage in the following activities:
- creating collective focus and clarity through out the organization
- cascading clarity
- reinforcing clarity through human systems, i.e. performance management
- developing cultural consistency
As to performance management, he explains it this way: “Essentially performance management is the series of activities that ensures that managers provide employees with clarity about what is expected of them, as well as regular feedback about whether or not they are adequately meeting those expectations.”
From my vantage point as a consultant and executive coach, I observe that successful companies practice what they preach. They also constantly reinforce it on a day-to-day basis. For them, the brand promise is a set of core behaviors rather than just words. While we all recognize that the culture is the strategy in successful companies, the key this fall is to not let the dark side of bureaucracy to slip in and take over, thus neutralizing the strategic advantage of a clear and focused culture.
For those of you who are seeking more information on how to change your organizational culture and avoid a growth in bureaucracy, then I would encourage you to read a recent blog post called “The Key to Changing Organizational Culture” by John Kotter, Forbes - 9/27/12. Here, Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, explains that “virtually no one clearly defines what they mean by “culture”.” Of course, as per normal for John Kotter, he explains what it means, i.e. “culture consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place.” Next, he explores where culture comes from and how it changes. While it is a short blog post, it also is a thought-provoking one. Here is the link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2012/09/27/the-key-to-changing-organizational-culture/?utm_source=web&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=blog
While you are reading Kotter’s ideas on cultural change, I also encourage you to read his Forbes, 7/12/2011 blog post called “Change Management vs. Change Leadership -- What’s the Difference?”. As Kotter points out, there is a big difference between change management and change leadership. The former focuses on minimizing “the distractions and impacts of change” while the latter focuses on “the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation.” Again, it a short blog post but one worth reading. Here is the link for your reading enjoyment: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2011/07/12/change-management-vs-change-leadership-whats-the-difference/
In summary, successful companies stay focused on their strategic nexus, the union of their mission, vision and values plus their strategic plan. This depth of clarity and attention allows them to handle the normal internal and external challenges that surface in any business without having to resort to developing a bureaucracy that tramples creativity, commitment and effectiveness.