Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When silo walls mean there is no overall corporate culture – 4

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 15, 2011

This is my fourth installment in a series on corporate cultures, and with a focus on where it would and would not make sense to have a single overarching corporate culture framework (see Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 209, 214 and 216 for parts 1-3.) And with this posting I turn to consider some special categories of participant who can perhaps best be seen as keepers of the flame – an expression I use here in its classical sense as maintainers and keepers of the inner mysteries and deeper truths, of the corporate culture.

For closed corporate cultures that can simply mean the CEO and in this I cite Ross Perot and his two companies, as discussed in brief case study form earlier in this series. But as I noted in Part 3 at least two other participant categories need special mention here too:

• 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.

Here, startup and early stage business founders by default create the initial foundation for whatever corporate culture is to develop long term. And long term employees with real depth of experience and knowledge of the corporate history and culture, can come to embody that culture and the lessons learned by the organization that have helped to shape it.

And starting with consideration of business founders, what led Perot’s companies: Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and Perot Systems to develop closed corporate cultures, where many other businesses develop more open corporate cultures?

A simple, and perhaps facile answer would be to state that Ross Perot did not seem to trust his employees, and I have already noted how his approach strongly suggested that. But a more accurate and useful answer for actually understanding this and its implications would focus on networking and communications strategies, and openness to innovation and change from others. And with this I turn to the fundamentals, and consideration of social networking strategies and a basic model of innovation diffusion that I have presented in this blog (see Social Networking and Business, postings 133 and following, and see in particular Part 3 of that series.)

• Founders who are active, open social networkers and communicators, and who actively, preferentially enter into two-way conversations are much more likely to build open corporate culture foundations.
• Founders who are reluctant to openly network and who prefer a central broadcast communications style when reaching out are much more likely to build for closed corporate cultures and to set and maintain a pattern for that to follow.
• Founders more comfortable with idea and innovation sharing, and who are receptive to change per se are much more likely to build for and to encourage open corporate cultures. I will add that this desire for openness can be a powerful driving force in bringing business founders to take on that role and build in the first place.
• Founders who see need to personally validate and approve any potential change before an innovation can be deemed acceptable are much more likely to prefer a closed corporate culture approach and to build towards that.

And this brings me to that second special consideration category of organizational and corporate culture participant: employees with so much long term tenure with an organization that they have in effect become living repositories of its history and practices. And that is where this story can become a lot more complex.

These are the people who can and do most effectively form and inculcate local corporate cultures for organizations partitioned into separate and distinctive silos. There, they can and do significantly serve to drive development and elaboration of separate areas of corporate culture in the organizational networks they work within. And this in turn is shaped and facilitated by their social networking reach and their range of social networking influence. Or they can be the people who most strongly maintain a single overarching corporate culture, with that also determined in large part by their social networking strategies and their reach of social networking influence. And in that, networks of hub networkers and other wide-ranging social networkers can effectively help to create and maintain single corporate cultures across even very large and geographically dispersed organizations (see social networking taxonomy terms and definitions.)

• So the social networking strategies of key participants in the overall corporate community can serve to drive the way that community is structured, long term.
• And this can significantly determine the reach and uniformity of culture across the organization – or not.
• A strong central leader can step in and either support and work with this, or compete against this pressure and override it. But if they do that, their controlling action can easily serve to throttle creativity and openness in general in the organization as a whole. Here, imposition of a single perspective at the cost of limiting other voices can override any value in what that single voice would offer.

And I will finish this posting with a final thought that meshes with my experience and with my findings in studying the experience of others. Truly closed corporate cultures become stultifying and they do cut off creativity and openness for the employees who are enmeshed in them. And this limits overall organizational effectiveness and capacity to compete as effectively as possible in the marketplace.

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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