Friday, August 31, 2012

Business Culture: Part 5, Cultural Inertia

This is the fifth part in a series of blog posts on Business Culture.  In this part I explore cultural inertia—resistance to change.
A culture evolves to a relatively stable, synergistic state.  Each member relies on group acceptance of their role and contributions, on the contributions of others and on the synergy of the group to achieve their shared goals.  The strength of a supportive culture will grow over time as the collaboration endures challenges and experiences successes.  The relationships and expectations will become increasingly intertwined and strengthened.  Participants will perceive the collaboration as making their jobs easier and more successful.  Challenges to “the way we do things” may be perceived as threats to the job security of the participants.
If a new person joins the group, that person will be under pressure to adapt to a compatible role.  The group may also adapt, but the adaptation must be consistent with the shared goals and relevant interests with minimal disruption to other roles.  Over time, the members resolve their differences, invest in refinements and rely on their roles and relationships to drive their individual participation and achieve success as a group. 
However, in a corporate context, this culture and the associated business practices may be sub-optimal, if they do not adapt to changes in the business, the marketplace, the technology or applicable regulations.  Such disharmony also is highly likely when groups are consolidated for reorganization, outsourcing, merger or acquisition.  This will lead to efforts to transform the affected collaborations using formalized business practices.  These prescribed practices may have significant impact on the perceived roles and relationships of the people involved as well as alignment of assignments with the interests, beliefs and capabilities of individuals.  At risk is not only the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization, but the loyalty and commitment of employees that go beyond just getting the job done.
Changing culture includes not only organization structure, but setting goals, objectives and incentives to address requirements and to align with the interests of participants.  In some cases, incentives are not enough, and interests can only be aligned by replacing people.
Unfortunately, cultural inertia also goes beyond the scope of a specific organization to include relationships with people in other organization units, suppliers and customers including informal collaborations where intangible values are exchanged.  Disruption of a culture affects not only the specific organization, but collaborations involving some of the participants in related cultures.  These may be based on friendships, professional associations, past work groups, or other interactions both formal and informal. Changing an organizational culture affects not only that organization, but potentially many other organizations in invisible ways.  Every culture is part of a larger ecosystem of related cultures.

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