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The Organizational “House of Culture”

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Symbols and Icons should include Vision and Future in Addition to History

Walking into one of America’s iconic technology company facilities recently provided me with a wonderful reminder of this company’s historical accomplishments and enduring successes. Quotes from iconic leaders from their past, framed artwork of iconic technologies that adorn the walls are a vivid reminder to all who visit and  work there that their mission is to change the world and make it a better place. On the other hand, some years ago, on working with one of America’s iconic brand apparel companies, I was surprised at the few reminders of the company’s vision and future strategic direction inside the organization. Indeed, to any employee, they could have well been working in the dull and boring utility company’s offices across the city. Symbols of various kinds can play an important part in focusing employees’ minds on what is important from a corporate performance and culture perspective.

Focused Initiatives to Shift Culture

It is not enough simply to describe the culture and set of behaviors that a company desires in the future, it is also necessary to have a deep understanding of the current culture and its potential obstacles to moving forward strategically. These deeper and often hidden cultural “tacit assumptions and beliefs” (Schein, 2009) are often not obvious on the surface, they require a deeper level of ethnographic type analysis to uncover – surveys and formal interviews often do not easily access these tacit beliefs. For example, in one international corporation I was working with, I was very surprised to identify an aspect of fear that was the basis for people, even at remarkably senior levels, to avoid accountability, being proactive and risk-taking. In another case, working with a utility, it became evident that a lack of trust between front line employees and senior leadership was so profound that it verged on a willingness to engage in sabotage of a particular project. In these cases, it is essential that the company mobilize resources to specifically target and resolve these culture specific obstacles.

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