Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 16: aligning management, leadership and corporate culture 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 28, 2015

This is my 16th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-15.)

Throughout this series, I have been discussing management systems and approaches and how they align with the basic business model in place. And in the course of that, I have focused on two specific organizational types as a source of working examples: a more rigidly top-down authoritarian business model as would for example be found in a military command system, and a more openly democratic egalitarian system. I add here that I did not seek to exhaustively cover the range of possible basic business model approaches there, simply selecting these two options out of many for their differences, and as a way to illustrate the more general applicability of the points that I was raising.

I turn in this posting to consider the issues of aligning management with corporate culture and with business and workplace culture in general. And I begin that by noting a fundamental point of distinction between this phase of this overall discussion and my discussion of how management can be more effectively aligned with business models per se.

• The overall business model of a business or organization is effectively owned by and shaped by by its owners and by its most senior C level executive leadership.
• A business and workplace culture, and certainly one that has developed and evolved over a significant period of time is very largely owned by the employees who work there, and by the ongoing momentum of their shared experience and their expectations there.
• Employees can and do influence the business model, and certainly in how it evolves and grows out in complexity as the business itself and its marketplace contexts do. And a business owner and its senior executive leadership can influence the corporate culture in place and even very significantly when they have been there long enough to be seen as representing and living the business’ values. But these details notwithstanding, the distinction that I draw in my first two points here still holds.

And with that in mind, I turn to consider what this sometimes amorphously considered feature to a business is: its culture. And at the risk of repeating myself from earlier postings, I organize a set of points here that I have at least briefly raised and noted before, as a foundation point for all that will follow in this discussion:

• A corporate culture, or if you will a business culture in general is a set of deeply engrained shared beliefs and opinions, and judgments that essentially everyone at that business comes to take for granted.
• And when a member of this larger team finds themselves consistently at odds with this grounding point of shared and expected opinion and its expression in behavior, they find themselves being viewed as not fitting in.
• You can find a series in this blog: Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation, that begins with day one at a new job and continues through to completion of the first performance review there that marks the end of a new employee probationary period (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 73 and following there, for its Parts 1-15). One of the reasons why an employee might not work out and why they might be let go, either before reaching this review or as a result of it is if they are perceived as not fitting in and even if their technical skills per se are adequate. Businesses, with time, tend to actively select for people who would be comfortable working within their culture in place, and as actively as they select for people who can effectively perform at their assigned tasks at a skills level.
• When a fit is overtly bad enough this can become the primary reason they are not even hired in the first place. And in that regard I note again a situation that I have discussed before in this blog where I and I add everyone else who interviewed a technically top-candidate computer programmer voted against hiring him – because he came across as so arrogant and so unwilling and unable to listen to or work constructively with anyone else. I have written of this specific incident for what it says about the importance of effective communications skills, but it is just as much about business and workplace culture incompatibilities too and I raise this again here with that perspective on this story in mind.

A variety of details, and certainly of overtly visible details of a business and workplace culture can radiate down from the top of an organization. And the determination as to what would be considered acceptable and allowed dress codes come immediately to mind as a working example of that. But a workplace culture as a whole encompasses a seemingly myriad number of little details too, and certainly as that business develops a long and rich history. In this, the culture in place in a business serves as the glue that binds it together, establishing the rules of the road for smoothing and aligning expectations and behavior and limiting friction as people there work together.

• Ultimately and more than anything else, the culture in place in a business, just like the shared culture in place in a society, creates a shared basis of accord and reduces friction and the potential for it. And it serves to limit problems created by personality friction and workplace conflict when they do arise – even if doing so imperfectly.

And with this in mind, I turn to the issues of leadership and management as they are carried out in a business and workplace culture context. I will begin that discussion in my next series installment from the foundation developed in this one. And in that, I will begin with a discussion of management and culture alignment and misalignment per se. And after that I will consider a situation where a single new senior manager or executive is brought into a business and from one with a very different culture (e.g. bringing in a new functional area executive from a very culturally competitive for-profit business sector to a more egalitarian nonprofit, in order to address emerging due diligence challenges that demand new skills and business perspectives.) I will then reconsider a scenario that I have discussed from a variety of perspectives in this blog: mergers, and in this case mergers of businesses that start out at least, having had very distinctive and different cultures in place.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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