Strong corporate culture is a double edged sword. On one hand it can be a great enabler, emphasizing the positive, building team spirit. On the other hand, corporate culture can become a ball and chain, limiting creativity, limiting change and innovation and sapping the strength of individuals in the organization.
I can say that from personal experience since I've actually been in both kinds of organizations. I've worked in firms with a strong culture that emphasized creativity and openness, while never losing sight of the need to delight a customer and make a profit. And I've also worked in firms where conformity was the rule, you did what you were told and never strayed from the corporate message or mindset. I didn't last long in the second culture, needless to say.
What got me thinking and writing about this topic was a recent sales call with a prospective client. As you may know, my firm is developing a software product to help people become more effective in meetings. To be honest, effective meeting management boils down to about five key criteria:
- planning the meeting
- preparing for the meeting
- establishing reasonable objectives
- good meeting facilitation
- following up on decisions and actions from the meeting
We've built a product that helps firms do these things more effectively and are seeking beta testers and early adopters to try out the application. If you are interested in beta testing, email me or send in a comment.
We met with a firm earlier in the week which had expressed an interest in improving their meetings. Several of us visited the firm and met with some senior managers. We asked about their meeting challenges, and the general consensus was that the meetings were poorly managed and planned, and that not much was accomplished in most meetings. Meetings were viewed as a waste of time. Before demonstrating our product, we discussed culture and philosophy and indicated that we'd found most firms broke down into two categories: those whose culture placed emphasis on good meeting management and etiquette, and those that didn't. Without the culture to encourage meeting planning and preparation, our application will not be fruitful.
It was pretty obvious in the meeting that planning and meeting preparation would be viewed as "overhead". Most of the managers we spoke with recognized the BENEFITS of better meeting planning and management, but most were not willing to work against the CULTURE of the firm, which reinforced doing rather than planning. So, for now, they will continue to hold meetings that are less than optimal, knowing that solutions exist to improve the meetings, but unwilling to force the changes necessary to improve the meetings.
I am fine with that. As I told one of the managers as I left, you can't push a string uphill. If the culture won't accept a new philosophy, the tool will not be successful, and there's little reason now to try to change it. What will change their culture is either a recognition at the very top that their culture creates damaging limits to innovation or change, or a dramatic change in the business itself. Too bad they have to be reactive rather than proactive, but that's the result when culture becomes a roadblock.