To me, there's probably no force more powerful in business than the strength that can be exerted by a powerful culture. Culture can be like kryptonite, crushing even the most powerful management initiative or leader.
I was thinking about this just yesterday as I worked with my good friends at Kinkos/Fedex. In the old days, Kinkos was a reliable, if somewhat disorganized print shop. I could count on Kinkos to provide me with a slightly disheveled manager who knew practically everything about printing, and who could make great recommendations about my documents. If Kinkos wasn't particularly organized, they were staffed by people who knew their business and always managed to get the job right. Since Fedex has bought Kinkos, it has all gone downhill.
Why? Well, I can't claim to have done a thorough investigation, but my suspicion is a culture clash. To Fedex, a job is very simple. You accept something from a customer, tag it and ship it. Whether its a three day ground shipment or an emergency overnight letter, everything to Fedex revolves around shipping. It boils down to a simple process with very powerful technology behind it. For Kinkos, by contrast, almost every customer interaction is a one-off. While I was in the local Kinkos over the weekend, there were approximately 10 other customers. Some wanted large quantities of black and white prints, some wanted to reproduce marketing collateral, some needed help with binding and so forth. Kinkos does not have a great process or powerful technology behind it.
In its history, Kinkos managed this by spending a lot of time with its customers, and usually overstaffing its facilities. I can remember going into many Kinkos and seeing five or six people in Kinkos aprons, working throughout the store. What they lacked in process, they made up for in customer service and customer interaction. Since Fedex has taken over, the focus seems to be to get people in and out as quickly as possible, with less customer service. I think the impact on the Kinkos side of the business will be dramatic and devastating. While it's OK to quickly process a Fedex package, you want the people handling your binders, your marketing material, your corporate presentation to take their time, listen to you and do it right. There's simply much less evidence of that old Kinkos culture anymore.
To Fedex, all customer interactions look like a simple, fast process: accept the package, tag the package, ship the package. That culture is forcing change on Kinkos that will ultimately drive the document management customers away from Kinkos. Fedex may have purchased a significant number of new physical facilities, but is probably strangling a primary revenue line.
What Fedex may not realize is that its focus on efficiency is almost opposite to the expectations and needs of the Kinkos customers. The culture clash between the two organizations is pronounced and is going to kill Kinkos.