Changing to a high-performance culture is no easy task

An empirical study in Bazil (2018) with regards to adaptive and non-adaptive cultures in organizations revealed some interesting facts, which could be seen as a warning: don’t try and change your command-and-control management style overnight.

[..] corporate culture is a variable of organizational change insofar as a certain set of values can influence the actors of an organization to the point of transforming them into agents of change in the levels of individual relationship-company.

Two outcomes are worth to mention:

[..] in a non-adaptive culture pattern: 87% of respondents shared the view that most people would rather be led than to assume new responsibilities; 79% of managers believe in the need for direct control and rigid supervision over subordinates to reach organizational goals, and 79% believe that there is generally little creativity and

initiative in solving problems.

While:

[..] in an adaptive culture: For 91% of managers, self-control is fundamental to the achievement of organizational goals; 87% believe that committed people become creative and self-directed in the pursuit of personal and professional self-fulfillment. The belief that people work for affiliation satisfaction, personal and professional self-fulfillment is pointed out by 82% of those questioned.

In other words: in organizations that currently have a non-adaptive culture, managers state that employee self-control is out-of-the-question, while their counterparts, managers of organizations with an adaptive culture, believe the contrary.

It isn’t hard to predict the challenges managers in non-adaptive cultures will have to face when they need to adapt to rapid changes in the marketplace.

Case Study: Digital and Then What?

A few years ago I was asked to join a start-up of about 25 people as their (interim) Chief Digital Officer and I had accepted. The firm had been growing with double figures each year, with no signs of a cooling down. My task was to help it mature, mentor the youngsters, describe the required procedures and processes, and digitalize whatever could be digitalized. After a successful round of digitalization, I turned my attention to the culture within the firm.

The CEO was 10 years younger and a good friend. However, his command-and-control management-style, IMHO, had contributed to a high degree of siloization of the firm, despite the small numbers in staff. If the firm wanted to grow, it needed to get rid of the (social and emotional) barriers between the silos in order to improve interdisciplinary collaboration. To remain as objective as possible, I hired an external consultant. Employees were modately excited: although being given a voice, they appeared very skeptical of the process.

On the day of the presentation of the final report, things turned sour. In the days leading up to the presentation, people had confided in me that they had told the consultant that they believed the siloization was caused by managerial behavior. However, none of that was reflected in the final presentation? I was stunned. Was the consultant instructed not to disclose these findings? If so, did management fear to lose face now that they, like any employee, were subjected to public scrutiny?

In a final attempt, I asked the group what they would choose if they were given the option: to continue working in a directed manner (oversight-driven) or to become more self-controlled (goal-driven). Only one raised his hand and stated he would probably choose the latter. The others just gazed at me and it made me feel heartbroken.

I decide to leave the company. It managed to survive for two more years before it inevitably collapsed. There was no one to blame. Culture just happens to develop from the values and behavior of the people in charge. It takes courage to be vulnerable


A business culture can make a firm thrive, but it can also destroy it. Leaders drive values, that drive behavior, that drives culture, that drives commitment, that drives engagement, which drives performance, and ultimately drives longterm success. Any misalignment can be devastating.

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