Protecting the corporate culture is not always good

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Corporate culture is a central topic in any transformation project, either digital nor not. For some it’s what slows transformation down, for others (whose voice is poorly amplified) it’s the lever that make things happen.

Corporate culture : an easy-to-find scapegoat

There’s no use explaining once again how corporate culture matters in such projects. But I’ve noticed that it’s often overrated in order to find reasons not to do something or to explain a failure. “It’s not going to work” or “our culture did not make it possible” are valid excuses but they also help to avoid addressing other matters one don’t want to. For instance the refusal to change processes (new technology  and behaviors on old processes often lead to failure), to transform the organization, to change performance measurement and objectives, to change how people are rewarded or to change the “standard employee profile” for future employees.

And there are all the occasions we have to let a progressive change happen that we protect ourselves from.

Any enterprise has a culture that’s translated into behaviors, a management model and how things are done. That’s a good and a bad thing at the same time. A good one because it helps to shape  an identity, values that make the organization consistent over time (even if culture is often mistaken for values). A bad things because it prevents change from happening.

A schizophrenic discourse about change

Businesses hire new employees who, for generational matters but not only, are closer to the targeted vision of what behaviors must be in a digital world than to the current culture. They also hire new managers or promote people who personify new approaches. Not a quantum leap but a slight change with regard to the current situation, that can lead to big changes over time without too much effort since a 1° gap at the start often results in a kilometers-wide gap on the finish line. And it’s painless : you just have to let things glide.

And what is the first thing any organization does regarding these new managers and employees that embody the destination it itself set ? Remind them of all the operational and managerial principles inherited from the past and tell them they must enforce them while if they were allowed to “be themselves” they would help the organization to glide to the destination point.

The worse is that they are asked to both protect the past and drive change at the same time. To change a culture they’re asked to protect. Ludicrous. “We are what we are because we’ve always done things this way, these are our points of reference” and, in the same time “we need to inject new behaviors to drive our digital transformation”. Enough to make managers crazy and send a confusing message to employees.

Don’t mistake culture for values

Back to the differences between culture and values. Even if it’s not a panacea or the unique solution to anything, it’s possible to drive a smooth change only relying on the new hired and sticking to the corporate value but interpreting them differently. That’s the difference between making a copy/past of a result and the method that made the result happen. Copying the method will help to protect the building blocks while getting different results because the context has changed. Copying the result will only result in ensuring the continued existence of a status quo that’s not relevant to the context anymore.

By overprotecting a culture that wants to “glide” by itself one does not protect the corporate values but the way they were interpreted a long time ago and may not be relevant anymore today.

Maybe because driving change by letting go kills the illusion of control businesses like to have ?

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