Why an effective culture counts more than a good one


Posted by Carolyn Taylor - 23 May, 2010

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I became engaged in a valuable conversation this week with a wise consultant during an accreditation I was running with a group who want to become partners of Walking the Talk. 

She pointed out that I often used the word 'good' to describe a certain type of culture, and suggested that 'effective' might be better.  I think she is right.  A culture needs to be FIT FOR PURPOSE which means that it enables the organisation to become more effective at what it is trying to achieve.  Think of it as a tool kit.

As employees, and as consultants, we are all biased towards companies which make us feel good and look after people well.  Speaking in terms of the Walking the Talk cultural archetypes, we have a bias towards a people-first culture, and might easily label this 'good'.

There are many companies who have a strong achievement culture which many people do not find 'nice' places to work.  They are driven, tough and to some appear cruel, internally competitive and ruthless.  These companies are successful.  People want to work for them.  They are challenging, but rewarding (emotionally as well as financially). They fit the purpose of the company, and the purpose of the individuals.

My primary interest is in helping a company to be clear about what this purpose is, and consistent and honest in communicating this.  If the culture is working, great.  Find people who align to that.  The stronger the culture is, the easier it is for it to eject those who do not fit, and for these people to realise it is not for them.  It is easy to label a company according to our own personal value-set 'good' or 'bad'.

The challenge for any change consultant, internal or external, is to play the role of devil's advocate without labelling 'bad' which will inevitably create a defensive response.  Sometimes people think their culture is 'fit for purpose' and events show there were flaws (see BP and Goldman Sachs in recent blogs) and there is a role for those who can skillfully hold up a mirror without being judgmental.

Question 1: Does our culture help us achieve our strategic intent? (Fit for purpose?)

Question 2: Do other's agree with this evaluation?(Feedback)

Question 3: How could our culture's strength become overused? (Risks)


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Topics: Achievement, People-First

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