I think of organizational culture as a set of behaviors that prescribe an organization to respond to situations in a uniform manner. There can be a “culture of execution”, “culture of safety”, “culture of delighting customers,” etc. It’s a set of norms that mirror what is important in an organization.
The “culture” word is getting a lot of play in the business world today. Changing culture seems to be the next big thing. Culture is blamed for bringing companies to their knees and a myriad of bad things as well as successes. How can one thing be responsible for so much? And, how can this one thing be so misunderstood? Do we really know how to change a culture? Better yet, do those talking about this really know how to change a culture?
Some recent examples:
• In an article “Who’s to Blame at BP?” (Fortune July 26, 2010) it states “The BP Board was on notice that the corporate culture of ‘saving over safety’ pervaded BP.”
• Another article in the same magazine “How Toyota Lost Its Way” alludes to the command and control culture and its role in slow and poor decision making.
• A government example “As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, The Pentagon” on 8/10/10 states: “Therefore, today I am announcing an initial set of decisions designed to reduce duplication, overhead, and excess in the defense enterprise, and, over time, instill a culture of savings and restraint in this department.”
Culture is intrinsically embedded is it to the way we work however singling out “culture’ is a nice way of blaming everyone and no one. So who is accountable for culture and why is it now frequently coming into the vocabulary of enterprises as then next thing to change? Will changing culture solve our business problems?
A culture can be changed, but not by dictate or command and can’t be quickly swapped out. Care must be taken to ensure it’s the right culture, supporting the goals of the organization for the long term. I’m hoping those taking this on are up for the job.
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