If you’re like me you’re sick to death from hearing about the great culture at Zappo’s and Google. After all, if we had a gazillion dollars in cash flow we’d all build gyms and onsite daycares for our employees, wouldn’t we? So, when it comes to culture do we all need to be a Zappo’s or a Google – no. Can we be substantially and dramatically better than where we are today – absolutely!
Culture: The New Competitive Advantage
Culture is the new frontier of competitive advantage. With a great culture, your strategies will leap into action. In addition, if you are looking to implement some significant changes in your organization, understanding your current culture will help you better define your change management programs. I’ve spent 25 years in the telecom industry and I’ve seen, and experienced, the impacts of good and bad culture, especially when you’re trying to implement change.
Company A: Good Culture
Let’s look at two companies who are implementing a new software program that will automate their dispatching function. Company A has a culture that is defined by values like: client satisfaction, making a difference, integrity, teamwork, fun, quality, ethics, and financial stability. They like to work together to create better experiences for their customers and each other. When the opportunity for a new dispatch system comes along, they can’t wait to see how they can improve on their current situation. Getting rid of all that manual work is exciting! Once they see a demonstration of the product, they start brainstorming on how best to use it. They come up with a list of policies and processes that need to be adjusted now that information will be flowing in a different manner. They also take this opportunity to look at more efficient training methods.
When it comes time to launch, there is much anticipation and even though things don’t go perfect on day one, they have the big picture in mind. Managers, dispatchers, field technicians and back office people huddle at the end of each day to compare notes and decide if the system needs to be tweaked or not. After all, sometimes it’s just a matter of reinforcing and supporting the change with certain individuals. After three months, they look back on their previously defined success metrics and celebrate!
Company B: Bad Culture
Company B has a culture that is defined by values like: blame, short-term focus, internal competition, buck passing, risk adverse, customer satisfaction, information hoarding and profit. It’s a culture dominated by fear. When their opportunity to implement the new dispatch software comes along there is significant resistance. No one wants to be blamed if things don’t go right so they are reluctant to participate on the implementation team. The demonstration session sets off a conversation about all the issues that could arise. When it comes time to review policies and processes, the first order of business is to try and sort out who is accountable for each policy and process. Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them to take on all this extra work. Management has to do double duty on the change management front to move their teams from awareness to understanding to acceptance. Finding champions of the project is tough.
Launch day comes, and sure enough not everything goes perfect on day one. Immediately the chorus of “I told you so” starts up. Every one steps away and keeps their head down, blaming the IT department, the dispatchers, or the technicians for “screwing things up”. Efforts to make improvements are done in isolation, and the fix that helps one area turns out to negatively affect another area. This just reinforces the blame cycle and leaves the implementers even more frustrated as they go back and undo all the work. After six months, the management team looks back and declares the implementation a disaster.
Understanding the culture of your organization will help you understand how ready your teams are for change. If you have limiting or negative values in your culture, they may be the very things that are holding back your strategies. Companies with strong positive values are adaptive and this makes them more competitive and successful. When was the last time you measured your current culture? Does your culture set you up to embrace change or resist it? What can you be doing today to improve your culture for change?