Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 17: aligning management, leadership and corporate culture 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 5, 2015

This is my 17th 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 1-16.)

I switched from a strategy and operations oriented business model approach to intentional management in Part 16, to consider the role of the corporate culture in place, in shaping what would constitute effective management. I briefly discussed business and workplace cultures in this context there, as foundation material for further discussion to come – here. And at the end of that series installment:

• I said that I would turn next to at least begin a discussion of management and culture alignment and misalignment per se.
• Then I added that I will consider a specific scenario in which a 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.)
• And I added that I also plan on reconsidering a second scenario for this part of this series’ discussion, that I have already delved into from a variety of perspectives in this blog, a number of times: mergers, and in this case mergers of businesses that start out at least, having had very distinctive and different cultures in place.

I begin addressing this here with the first of these bullet points, and with the absolute fundamentals. And the most fundamental point that I could raise here is that the single most important set of skills that any manager or leader can have is their communications skills (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342-358 for its Parts 1-17.) I cannot overly emphasize this point; managers, like non-managerial hands-on employees are usually hired for their same-industry and functional area skills and experience, but the higher a manager rises in an organization and the higher they move up tables of organization, the more often they will find themselves managing hands-on experts who have and are using skills that they do not themselves have too. An effective manager needs to know the language – the technical jargon of the people who report to them and they need to understand the capabilities and the issues that arise in these areas of specialization but they do not in general need to know how to take over this work themselves to perform it hands-on. They do need to be able to see and understand the big picture and how its pieces fit together. And they need to know how to communicate effectively, and with two-way communication where they listen as well as speak.

The second absolutely crucial set of skills they need, which can in many respects be considered a part of the overall suite of communications skills, are negotiating skills. And this is where management skills and the corporate culture in place meet, and occasionally collide.

Hopefully not just repeating the obvious, a corporate culture per se is not about specific technical skills or experience or their day to day implementation. And this point holds even if it is at the heart of a given business’ culture that it is technologically innovative and cutting edge, and both as a goal and as an expected norm.

• The culture in place in a business organization, serves to make employee interactions and work flow processes move along more smoothly,
• And especially when it is confronted by change, and even seemingly ongoing disruptive change in what that business develops and brings to market,
• In what that business faces in its marketplace and wider outside context, or both.

If a manager understands this, and actively seeks to work within the framework of that corporate culture, they will be able to work with the members of their own team that reports to them and with other stakeholders in that business more smoothly, and with a minimum of friction and misunderstanding. If they continually take actions and share messages that violate this expected norm and without specific reason for doing so, and without communicating why they do so, they create barriers to their own success as well as frustrating challenges for others.

• There are always going to be at least some potential circumstances where a new path has to be found for effectively moving forward, and even one that deviates from the expected and the up until then, tried and true. But if you as a manager need to break ranks with the expected and the basically understood and assumed, you need to say how and why, and you need to seek and establish a level of buy-in for this change – and certainly if the alternative is that you would simply be seen as walking over people and the business’ traditions and without cause.

This many sound extreme, but remember that while some areas of a corporate culture can be quite flexible and open to interpretation, most any corporate culture has elements in it that are held by most everyone there to be inviolate – and certainly if they are actively brought to everyone’s attention from being seen to be violated, and seemingly without reason or justification. Know where these real landmines in this potential mine field are.

And this brings me to the second bullet point in my above stated to-discuss list and the new hire manager. The types of problems that I write of here are by far more likely to arise when a new manager is brought into an already established business from a different type of corporate culture climate, and where their ways and expectations do not mesh smoothly with those of the people they now find themselves working with. As a side note, at least in my experience, this is a big part of why most hiring managers preferentially or even exclusively look for new hires, and particularly new management hires from within their own industry and business type – and even when essentially the same technical skills and functional area management skills that they are looking for could be found more widely. People with more similar business and industry backgrounds are more likely to already be familiar with and comfortable with the type of corporate culture there, than might be found in an equally skilled hands-on functional area professional from a different workplace background. Their justifying reasons for this might focus on the more technical skills differences, but often the real reason for this selectivity is more one of concern over corporate fit, and with fitting in with the corporate culture. (Note: if you are looking for work opportunities in what to you would be new industries, as I have frequently found myself doing as a consultant, keep this potential source of hiring manager concern in mind. Become familiar with the cultural differences that you will face, just as you do for the more technical areas of the work you that would do there. And prepare to be able to present yourself as an insider for working with and within the type of corporate culture you are interviewing in.)

And this brings me to that third bullet point and the second, merger scenario that I would discuss here. I am going to discuss mergers, and I add acquisitions in this context in my next series installment. 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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