Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When silo walls mean there is no overall corporate culture – 3

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 5, 2011

This is my third 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 and Part 2.)

In Part 2, I started a discussion of how open communications among the people affected by a corporate culture – and between them and their marketplace changes the business and its connections to its surrounding communities. I finished that posting by defining two terms that I will be using here:

• 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.

And I start out here by noting a key detail in those definitions – awareness of the corporate culture. That is important. Citing a point raised in Part 1, a traditional (closed) corporate culture can for most organizations defined as:

• A body of shared judgment, perspective and opinion that is so ingrained and automatic as to become background assumption – and in effect invisible unless specifically brought up or challenged.

That definition and that approach to corporate culture has generally applied for most organizations – invisibility in day to day practice included. And that is because rank and fine employees can have no say in its shaping or contents, or in its priorities. So they simply learn to accommodate the corporate culture that they work within, and without having to think through its details, as a fruitless distraction.

• One potential of ubiquitous computing and communications can be found in the opening up of corporate culture and the empowerment of employees to have a wider voice there too.
• This puts pressure on the organization to limit inefficiencies and to weed out what might be called historical detritus in the corporate culture.
• Details and requirements that do not work would likely be challenged by the people they would impede in their being able to do their work.
• A similar weeding out process would be expected where corporate culture practices would diminish employees’ having a genuine place in the organization and where it would impinge on their option to participate in the open conversation.

A truly open corporate culture with open and widely interactive information sharing and communications would tend to be one with a more visible, and employee managed corporate culture. Organizations with a centralized, single source broadcast communications system for operational decisions and practices would be more closed and would run greater risks of having and even accumulating culture-based inefficiencies. And that impacts directly on the effectiveness of the business as a whole.

I just noted the impetus that individual employees would have for reaching greater efficiencies and effectiveness in what they do. That would help them reach their goals and their stretch goals as well, for their own performance reviews – and for the stretch goals in being awarded bonuses. The cumulative, mass-action result of that across the business and its work force would be to improve overall effectiveness in gaining and securing market share and profitability.

• Would this lead to a single, shared corporate culture?
• Would this simply redefine silo walls and create new forms of internal barriers, marking off groups that see greater value in having local corporate cultures and practices within the larger organization?
• What impact would this have in the response to a different business model/different corporate culture acquisition, as outlined as the third scenario in Part 1 and then picked up on in Part 2 of this series?

Not all voices are equally loud or have equal impact. And even in a fully open organization for communications, with an open corporate culture, leadership has an advantage of position and opportunity to share their perspective, as among the most connected and listened to networkers in the organization. With that, the answers to these questions need not be determined by chance or without strategic forethought. And I finish this posting by returning to the case study I focused on in Part 2: Ross Perot’s two businesses.

I stated that he by all appearances never really trusted his employees to make valid decisions on their own, good for the business or even good for meeting their own individual performance goals – and certainly not at the level of establishing corporate culture. Relaxing his grip there might have given him surer control and with wider options in managing the business as a whole. There is a measure of irony in that.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider two special categories of participant in a corporate culture, who can in fact have a significant voice in either an open or a largely closed system:

• Startup and early stage business founders, and
• Employees with so much long term tenure with an organization that they have in effect become living repositories of its history and practices.

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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