Saturday, April 24, 2010

What is the culture of your organization?

Have you seen the organization where you find teams or employees that exhibit following traits?

• They set challenging but realistic goals, establish plans to reach them and pursue them with enthusiasm.
• They enjoy their work, develop themselves and take on new and interesting activities
• They support each other, they are constructive and open to influence in their dealings with one another.
• They are friendly, cooperative and sensitive to the satisfaction of their work group and of other work groups elsewhere in the organization.

You must have also seen teams and people that exhibit following traits.

• They agree with, gain the approval of and are liked by others.
• They conform, follow the rules and make a good impression.
• They do what they’re told and clear all decisions with superiors.

And you must have also seen teams and people which exhibit following unique traits.

• They shift responsibilities to others and avoid any possibility of being blamed for a mistake.
• They are critical, oppose the ideas of others and make safe decisions.
• They take charge, control subordinates and yield to the demands of superiors.
• They work in a win-lose framework and work against their peers.
• People avoid mistakes, keep track of everything and work long hours to attain narrowly defined objectives that may further their individual performance, but not contribute to the over all goals.

Based on above exhibited traits can we classify the culture? Yes we can….

Constructive: The behaviors in this group help people meet satisfaction needs - the kind of satisfaction derived, for instance, from reaching one’s potential. People balance expectations for thinking independently and taking initiative with expectations to work consensually and share power. They regularly voice unique perspectives and concerns while working toward agreement.

Constructive cultures are evident in environments that value (and reward) quality over quantity and creativity over conformity. Cooperation is believed to lead to better results than competition. Effectiveness is judged at the overall level, not just at a unit or department level.

In constructive organizations, levels of satisfaction, teamwork, service quality and sales growth tend to be high. They tend to have a dual focus – on financial success today and on developing people, strategy and market share to ensure more success in the future.

Employees (both staff and management) at a variety of industries identify the constructive culture as the “ideal” for their organizations. It is not uncommon for senior management to have a constructive culture, but for those values and behaviors not to have permeated the rest of the organization.

Passive/Defensive: The behaviors in this group play to a need for security and low risk. People do what it takes to please others and avoid interpersonal conflict. Rules, procedures and orders are followed without question. In this highly directed environment, jobs are narrowly defined and supervision is intense. Managers rarely catch employees doing things right, but never miss when they do things wrong. Unresolved conflict and turnover are common in such organizations, as well as low satisfaction and motivation.

While these cultures were successful in the past in producing consistent, reliable products and services because of relatively stable competitive and technological environments, today they work against responding to quickly changing customer needs, competition, and technological advances.

Passive/Defensive cultures are often found in “protected” organizations, such as government agencies, organizations that are closely regulated by government or ones that operate as monopolies or even typical owner driven companies. Lack of competition and a belief that the customer base will remain constant often leads these organizations to preserve the status quo rather than look for major opportunities and improvements.

Aggressive/Defensive: The need for security is also a strong driver of behavior in this type of culture. But whereas the dynamic in a passive/defensive culture is more person oriented

People approach tasks forcefully, not to further the overall goals of the organization as much as to protect their status, security and “turf.”

These cultures encourage people to appear competent and superior, even if the underlying skills and experiences are lacking. Those who admit shortcomings or ask for help are seen as weak. There is an emphasis on confrontation, competition and criticism. An unrelenting pressure to appear perfect and expert mitigates against customer service, admission of errors, trying new and perhaps risky things and teamwork. It can also depress motivation and health.

Although professing otherwise, management tends to put its own interests before those of its key constituents – customers, employees and stockholders. Often they are able to appear effective (although not indefinitely) because of the past successes of the organization. But this sort of culture prevents organizations from adapting to changes in their environment and will ultimately affect financial performance.

This culture is found in fast-paced organizations, where people have to think and take action quickly on a regular basis. Examples would be the computer and telecommunications sectors, with a high level of competition and short product cycles; the military; and emergency services where fast, physical, logistical movement is essential. It is also found in organizations that suddenly and unexpectedly experience huge sales growth (such as biotech and e-commerce firms.)

The nature of such environments leads many companies to falsely conclude that to be aggressive and compete externally they need to mirror those qualities internally. But internally aggressive cultures do not produce the best results. Quality is often sacrificed for quantity and coordination is bypassed in favor of immediate personal success.

This culture is also found in organizations that have gone through downsizing or who emphasize traditional methods of quality control (for instance, putting quality responsibility at the supervisor level).

So what does it mean? Which is a good culture or bad culture?

So is the implicit message –

Constructive = Good?
Aggressive/Defensive = Bad?
Passive/Aggressive = Worst?

Each organization has to decide whether the current operating culture aligns with where it wants to be and if it provides what the company needs to accomplish its goals. It has been well proven, in empirical studies of the last 10-15 years across a broad swath of organizations, that strength of culture is not enough to ensure continued success.

Further, cultures that serve organizations well at one stage of their life may be counterproductive in a later stage. For instance, aggressive entrepreneurial organizations may find that the culture that “worked” during start-up becomes, as they grow, a liability if aggressive-defensive norms dominate their internal ways of working.

People may downplay the capabilities of new competitors, or enter new markets that are inconsistent with competencies, or emphasize internal competition over the gains to be realized by working with some interdependency.

Sometimes, those responsible for the successes of their organizations misattribute their accomplishments to the organization’s culture that evolved – and may have been useful –in another era. Yet, it is equally likely that the paper’s success was in spite of the culture.

It may have been due to other powerful factors such as market conditions, timing, location, and availability of resources or technological expertise. There is a strong body of research that shows organizations that sustain excellent performance in changing environments are those that have behaviors and values that support adaptiveness. In today’s environment and going forward, constructive cultures are the most desirable because they allow for greater adaptability.

And this is the reason why the change agenda is on top priority of every organization.


Sureshchandra Padhye said...


Swapnali Pansare said...

Great Vinod Sir, You have amazing thinking power. Keep writing and enlightening us.

YogeshHukame said...

Great !.You have expressed it very correct.We all would like to work in Constructive culture ( Good Culture).

Yogesh Hukame

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