Corporate Culture and the Right Kind of Strength 

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Corporate Culture and the Right Kind of Strength 

Barry Horwitz shares a post that explores the meaning of organizational structure, and why the right kind of strength is needed when developing strategies.

One of the phrases I frequently hear — often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker — is that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Many times, what’s being suggested is that strategy is, therefore, irrelevant.

Naturally, as a strategist, I disagree!

That said, it’s no accident that this quote has survived for as long as it has. Culture — particularly organizational culture — is a critically important topic. So, let’s begin by thinking about what organizational culture means…

In his recent book, Win from Within, Harvard Business School professor (emeritus) James Heskett described leading a study in which a simple hypothesis was tested: Does a strong culture lead to good performance? Without defining what “strong culture” meant, they studied a number of companies with this attribute.

The result? As expected, many of the best performers fell into this group. But… so did some of the worst!

Clearly, the issue is more complex than it may at first seem. Beyond strength, it’s important to consider what kind of culture your organization has, as well as how that culture connects with what the organization is trying to do.

For example, many (many) years ago, a friend of mine was part of the original Macintosh computer team at Apple. According to her, the culture there was terrible. Steve Jobs was a hard driver: offering harsh criticism in group settings, demanding complete secrecy, and expecting long work hours. Did Apple have a “strong culture?” Absolutely. And it was at least partly responsible for the successful launch of the Mac computer in 1984. You could certainly make the case that, however harsh it may seem, it was the right one for that task.

A second example of strong culture is the New England Patriots football team.While it’s true that the team is made up of highly talented, highly paid athletes (many with substantial egos), the coaching staff requires the players to focus on team rather than individual outcomes. Players with particular skills are often moved to different positions throughout a game as needed, allowing the team to adjust quickly as opportunities arise and injuries occur. Love them or hate them (I’m from New England; you can guess where I stand!), there’s no denying that the Patriots’ strong cultural focus on team over individual has served them well.

Sometimes, though, a strong culture can (literally) lead to disaster. Such was the case many years ago with Morton Thiokol. They were the ones responsible for the “O-ring,” the failure of which led to the Challenger explosion in 1986. Some of the engineers knew that the O-ring could fail under certain weather conditions, yet they said nothing as the launch proceeded on an unseasonably cold day. Their silence has been attributed to a “strong culture,” one which dictated that engineers don’t contradict leaders who sit above them in the hierarchy.

The point is, what matters is not simply having a strong culture… you also need the right kind of culture. Common attributes of that include:

Key points include:

  • Sense of purpose
  • Adaptability

  • Safety

Read the full article, What Does Culture Eat For Lunch?, on HorwitzandCo.com.