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

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. The CEO was some 10 years younger and a good friend. His management style, however, had caused the organization to become extremely siloed, despite the limited numbers in staff.

After I had guided the organization through a life-threatening crisis, I wondered if I wanted to continue helping to build the firm. To get to the bottom of what lied behind the silos – and the skepticism, organizational politics and turf wars that came with it – I hired an external consultant. On the day of her presentation, with the CEO present, I was confused by the outcome or her research. Many had confided in me, after being interviewed by her, by stating that much of the siloization was caused by managerial behavior, but none of that was presented as outcome during the presentation.

In an ultimate attempt to ease my confusion, I asked the group what they would choose if they were given the option: to either to-do-as-they-are-told or to be more self-controlled. One person dared to raise his hand and stated he would choose the latter. The others just gazed and it made me feel heartbroken. I decide to leave the company. It managed to survive for two more years, aided by the lower cost of operation due to digitalization, before it inevitably collapsed.

There was no one to blame. Culture just happens to develop from the values and behavior of the people in power. I’m sure I could have turned the tables, as I had done so many times. However, this time was different. A third manager had just entered the firm, a mutual friend. I was made aware that he had been a former superior of the CEO during previous employment and this was by far an ideal situation. Days after, the two started to act like roosters and this made me even more wary of the times ahead.

Leaving was by far the safest option because I feared for our friendships. And it allowed me to finish what I had started before I joined the firm: the ROUNDMAP™.

You see, culture can build firms, but it can also destroy them. Leadership, value, behavior, and culture drive commitment, which increases performance. A misalignment can be devastating.

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