The Company Culture as a Firewall


By John Riley

Company culture is so pervasive and omni-present, it often goes unacknowledged.  And yet it is one of the most powerful business forces impacting on employees trying to do their jobs and outsiders seeking to do business with the company. The casualty rate can be high.

 For example, take the up and coming young manager who is trying to sell his management on changing the production process of a major product.  The unwritten cultural norm that developed over time says each product would be inspected by the Quality Assurance manager or his designate rather than using a statistical sampling system which the young manager advocates.  If the young manager is going to succeed here, he will need to know how to change the culture.

Cultural habits and norms are powerful reinforcements of the status quo.  If you don’t understand the culture, you can’t change it.

When a consultant tries to do business with a company and is retained to undertake a project, she walks into a cultural environment of which she knows nothing.  Her acceptance and ability to be effective in the company depends on how well she assimilates the nuances  of the crowd and quickly identifies the informal thought leaders with whom she will need to bond.

 Because the outsider is not of the company organization, her ability to change a cultural element will depend largely on her creditability with and trust of the CEO or President when she makes her report and recommendations.

 A culture develops over time, is deeply rooted and varies by industry.  Most often it is directly or indirectly driven by the CEO and his or her management style. 

 Whether an employee or an outsider, a culture change may be the only solution to achieving a desired result. It may not be quick nor will it be easy, but it can be done. Here are five approaches to consider.

 Change performance measures and incentives and realign employee objectives

Set up a pilot project to test the new method; let employees experiment with the new method.

Bring in new people with new ideas

Brainstorm different approaches to the quality inspection process

Benchmark best-in-process organizations

 Firewalls, or in this case the company culture, generally serve the best interests of the company, however, there will be those occasions where change is essential to the further development and success of the company.  The key is knowing what and when.

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