Strong organizational culture is often admired as a potential source of great results and competitive advantage. The inspirational stories about unique companies with outstanding achievements (Apple, Google, etc.) are attracting us to praise the strong culture phenomena.
Individuals working at successful companies are usually proud of the company culture. They have reason to believe that the culture is an important element behind the current success. Personally, they might feel themselves positively culture fit. In other words, they experience belonging and esteem, which are very strong motivators of human beings.
For these reasons, leaders may have a subliminal urge to protect the unique cultural DNA of a successful company. Instead of solely intuitive action, there should be reflection of the benefits and drawbacks of the culture. As attractive the strong culture is, it comes with a shadow.
A strong culture may lead in wrong direction
Usually the typical characters of the culture-fit employees and managers are easy to recognize. Therefore these characteristics are often used as recruitment and promotion criteria, in order to strengthen the culture. And there comes the possible trap.
Be aware of these possible paths into culture traps
- It cannot be taken granted that the culture supports well the business performance of the company. One study showed that only ¼ of the senior executives in large, global companies felt that the culture was supporting effectively the performance.
- Admiring certain culture-fit characteristics may overshadow other, necessary competences. As a result, the competence profile of employees may become too homogenous. The company may suffer for example from a shortage of strategic vision or customer orientation.
- If the profile of employees is too homogenous, the harmony and consensus tends to rise. The paradigm paralysis (the inability to see beyond the current models of thinking) is potentially dangerous. Consequently very few members of the organization may be able or willing to challenge the generally accepted thinking. Important perspectives or weak signals may disappear totally from the radar.
- The present organization culture may not work well in the future if the business environment changes. A strong culture is not easy to transform. A strong culture is stubborn. Forthcoming era of transformation will challenge the strong cultures like never before. These organizations must find a way to agile change, if it’s not in their DNA yet.
- Abraham H. Maslow: A Theory of Human Motivation (1943)
- Michael Mankins: The Defining Elements of a Winning Culture (HBR Dec 19, 2013)
- Edgar H. Schein: Organizational Culture. American Psychologist, February 1990.
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