I ended my previous blog with the following questions:
But, once an organization has made the decision to invest the time in the process of defining their corporate culture, what do they do next? What steps do they take? What questions do they ask? And then what do they do with the data?
Thought I would spend a bit of time here, but before I get started I want to note that the real differentiator is between companies that care and those that don't. There is no one best ways to define corporate culture. I have seen great cultural clarity from companies that hired a team of consultants to spend a month doing interviews and evaluations, and I have seen equally focused clarity from excellent management that strives to help their team define who they are, how they interact, and what this all means. My point is, that what matters most is the effort to define -- whatever the strategy.
With that point out of the way, we can begin to talk about the steps needed to define an organization's culture. The first step is a philosophical one. The team must understand the purpose and the impact of their work. This should be an executive driven endeavor. Occasionally it is not, but that is another conversation.
In order to be effective, the team must understand that the work of understanding an organization's corporate culture must be at the risk of bruising egos. If the executive team really wants to understand who they are they must enter this process as a blank slate -- ready to accept things as they are. They must be willing to looking in the mirror and see the truth.
I remember a CEO that asked me to conduct a cultural assessment with his entire company. When he got back the results they did not jibe with his desired corporate culture. He got angry. In fact, he sent me packing for two months and then invited me back to do the same assessment.
On the second go-around the assessments of the folks in the trenches matched the CEO's personal cultural assessment. He now was satisfied. As an outside observer, I believe that he used his power to manipulate his employees instead of realizing that the first answers were authentic and valuable. I tell this story to make the point that unlike this CEO, an executive or executive team must be ready to listen if they are going to understand their culture.
Once all the key executives are prepared to move their egos aside, they must come up with a way to collect objective data. There are plenty of ways to do this, but I suggest a very simple cultural assessment that I have come up with. You can download it for free here. I even include directions on how to administer the profile.
Whether you use my simple cultural assessment or use a team of consultants that do interviews with each of your staff members or if you have a brainstorming session on your corporate culture, there are two things that you must keep in mind: 1) there is no RIGHT corporate culture -- every organization is different. Corporate culture just "IS." Certainly you can have a desired culture, but great organizations recognize that perception of culture is reality. 2) Perception of culture can change from department to department, team to team, and individual to individual. It can also change over time. What you are looking for is general trends. Certainly vast perception differences amongst employees can be a sign of problems, but small differences are not only normal, but are even healthy.
More on this topic in my next blog entry...