Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When silo walls mean there is no overall corporate culture – 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 26, 2011

This posting is a second installment in a short series on corporate culture as a source of due diligence and best practices, and with a focus on where it would and would not make sense to have a single overarching corporate culture framework (see Part 1.)

At the end of Part 1 I cited a particular type of scenario as one of three discussed, that I wanted to continue presenting:

• Acquisition and ownership of a wholly owned subsidiary that has the potential of bringing essential blue ocean marketplace capabilities to the core business – but that is successful in being able to offer that from having a separate and distinctive business model and corporate culture.

There, I noted the need of the acquiring business to preserve the value and capability in its perhaps very expensive acquisition so as not to crush it from imposition of a “this is how we do it, so get with the program” mentality.

My goal in this posting is two-fold:

• I want to delve a bit more deeply into what goes into a corporate culture, and
• I want to look into how corporate cultures are developed and maintained, and shared.

And for this second point I am going to at least start a discussion as to how our rapidly emerging capabilities for ubiquitous computing and communications are reshaping corporate cultures and how they are shared and perceived.

I want to start this posting with the first of the above two goals bullet points and by considering a very specific case study: Ross Perot and his companies, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) which he sold to General Motors in 1984 and Perot Systems which he founded in 1988. Here, my focus is not going to be on these two businesses that Perot built, as much as it is on their corporate cultures.

Ross Perot was the ultimate owner, and active, hands-on arbiter of the corporate cultures that inculcated both of his businesses. And his primary goal in developing and enforcing culture in his companies was a drive to shape them and their employees in his personal self-image.

One of the points I made in passing in Part 1 was in how corporate cultures can and often do include details such as exacting dress codes, and I have to admit that I had Ross Perot in mind as I wrote that. All male employees were required to wear black suits and white shirts, and conservative ties and every single day they were at work – no exceptions. Woman employees were required to follow equally precise and specific conservative dress code standards. Just considering male employees for a second by way of example, an employee who came to work in a sports jacket and without that tie was in distinct danger of bring fired then and there and certainly if Mr. Perot saw them. And this brings me to some fundamental questions that come up when looking in the box to see what is actually contained in a corporate culture. I have been writing this short series with a focus on the positive, supportive side of corporate culture and how this can and often does provide due diligence and marketplace position strengthening resources.

• Who shapes and controls a corporate culture, and what is the impact of having a centralized voice and authority in this matter?
• What aspects and features of a corporate culture provide positive, sustaining value and what are simply there as historic holdovers, or even impediments to business success and long term viability?

And as I will argue in at least some detail, our emerging capabilities for ubiquitous computing and communications are reframing both of these questions.

I am going to focus on that in my next series installment, but start that discussion here, by noting the significance of anyone at an organization potentially actively connecting with everyone else.

• Ross Perot’s approach with its highly egocentric, from the center approach to defining allowable behavior with his one person defined corporate culture, would be quite sufficient to crush the value out of any acquisition that depended on following a different business model and corporate culture for success. Imagine the effect of Ross Perot’s approach on a cutting edge web technology startup or early stage acquisition that had a flat table of organization and a relaxed and direct communications style – and a relaxed dress code to match.
• Ubiquitous computing and communications opens the doors to everyone having a voice and a significant one, and both in helping to collectively decide what features of the corporate culture are core and what are more minor – and in how to work effectively in its overall framework. And that startup or early stage hot technology, blue ocean strategy acquisition and its team members would see themselves as being crushed under an avalanche of the inconsequential with no real understanding or appreciation of contributions made or of value actually offered.
• Ultimately, Mr. Perot did not trust the people who worked for him to make a valid decision on matters of conduct or culture, and that can only work when communications are controlled and real voice is highly restricted.
• Ubiquitous computing and communications do not necessarily mean everyone has an equal voice, but that there is a built-in framework through which value can and will rise to the top – and from multiple sources.

And I introduce two terms here that will prove useful in moving this discussion forward:

• An open corporate culture is one in which multiple voices hold influence in both shaping and interpreting culture, and in deciding what is and is not supportive of it and acceptable within it.
• A closed corporate culture is one in which all meaningful decisions and interpretations are made centrally, and according to a system by which everyone else is expected to follow but without having voice.

You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 and the first 200 postings in this general directory at Business Strategy and Operations. See also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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