A recent article by Mary Teresa Bitti in the 4 November, 2011 National Post (page Jv1 and 6) argues that organizational culture is the greatest asset as it cannot be duplicated because it is unique to each and every social system.
Culture is defined as: “the way we do things around here!” Just like every person has unique qualities so do organizations. The article goes on to suggest that by adapting one’s culture to fit the strategy we can make our culture a significant strategic asset. The article also touches on what it takes to shift a culture into strategic alignment – the many acts of congruent mirroring behaviours. This is viewed as a critical leadership role – to make culture align to strategy.
My take on this is simple: culture change is a slow process, especially if it is considered from the total organizational perspective. Yet most organizations have difficulty in wanting think out beyond two to three years. The reasons are well understood (not practical are the main ones).
I would suggest that if “cultural norms” are a critical lever for successful implementation of strategic success, we think of it along “investment” like lines. Effective strategy is more about knowing what you will not spend time doing and less about what you will be doing. Once we choose a strategic direction we make discerning choices on what support (investments) are needed (financial, assets, people, etc.) to specifically move on our agreed to strategic goals. I think we should think of cultural alignment the same way. For those charged with executing the strategy, what cultural norms do they specifically need to share? The answer to this question means we look to add whats missing, discard what’s irrelevant or detrimental.
I am troubled by the notion that larger organizations have a “culture”, my own experience is they more typically have a plurality of sub-cultures. Are there over-riding shared cultural norms, yes, but they are the most generic ones. If we think of culture as an aide for superior performance, then we must recognize that different roles have different/varying high performance needs (e.g., being a great clerk has different supports than being a great engineer, or great executive).
I find in this article and many others I have read that we tend to view culture as a global (to the organization) monolithic set of attributes. This is far too coarse of view as it does not provide support for the discrete needs of varied role contributions. Taken at this global level, culture is not an asset at all.