Taking charge of corporate Culture

Managers of many companies have tried take charge and direct their corporate culture. Anita Roddick is living proof. Indeed, many of the cases examples in this book involve companies in the middle of culture changes. Kotter and Heskett claim that a critical element in successful culture change is leadership from the top. At GE, Jack Welch has been a relentless champion of making GE number 1 or number 2 in all of its businesses. Bob Allen has tirelessly led AT&T toward quality management and employee participation. At Con Agra, Mike Harper emphasized results for shareholders through satisfying customer needs. At Nissan Motors, Yutaka Kume changed a large, bureaucratic organization by giving power to those much further down in the organization. In each of these cases, cultural changes have led to periods of renewed financial performance.

Patagonia. a designer and distributor of technical outdoor clothing, embraces a classic culture that reflects the persona of its founder . Yvon Chouinard is a mountain climber and an environmental activist who spends up to eight months of the year away from the company new products. It is all about how you form relationships with people. And whether Chouinard is working on reforestation in Chile, skiing with dealers in Japan, or meeting with random climbers he encounters during his travels that is just what he is doing: building relationships. Initially, however, as his company grew, Chouinard (like, many other entrepreneurs) ran into some problems. He found that the professional managers he tried did not fit in with the culture. This is unique culture, extremely unique. Not everyone fits here, remarked Chouinard, I’ve found that rather than bring in businessmen and teach them to be dirt bags, it is easier to teach bags to do business. We realize we don’t need any managers. The company is now divided into small working groups. The solutions come from all the people working together. The vision of the founder has thus created a culture of connection and working together. It works only because the founder takes care to hire compatible employees and teach them the culture. This is taking charge of the culture.

The role of dedication and sharing:

When employees join an organization, the manager introduces them to the culture of the organization during training sessions, or more commonly, during the job interviews themselves. Though words and actions the manager conveys the written and unwritten rules that all employees must follow. When employees join Family Dollar, for example, they attend a one week school to train them in all procedures. Although this policy requires training more than 1,200 employees each year, the leaders believe the expenses are worthwhile, because it keeps the employees connected to one another and increases productivity.

Mere dedication is not enough – culture is constantly reinforced through the creation of stories, heroes, rites, and ceremonies. The greeter at a Wal-Mart store stands as a symbol of the company’s culture of frugality, hard work, and service to customers. Company slogans also serve to reinforce cultures. They carry simple messages, but adeptly convey the companies’ vision, strategy and values. For example, the Ford slogan Quality is Job One reflect a major effort at cultural change involving a focus on building better-quality cars and being much more responsive to customers.

Even the architecture of a company’s buildings and grounds can reflect its corporate culture. The Nike Campus, on 74 acres of pine groves in Beaverton, Oregon, breathes the energy, youth, and vitality associated with Nike’s products and links quality and fitness – the hallmark values of Nike. Similarly, the new downtown Manhattan headquarters of the National Audubon Society is a hundred year old building on lower Broadway, recently renovated using environmentally sound materials. Conveying a sense of an inspiring and healthy workplace, it parallels the Audubon image.