Stop Blaming Your Culture

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When a new leader’s strategy puts the culture of a company at risk, the culture will trump the strategy, almost every time.  There are good reasons for this.  Every company’s identity — the body of capabilities and practices that distinguish it and make it effective — is grounded in the way people think and behave. When your strategy and culture clash visibly, more likely than not, the culture is trying to tell you something about your own leadership philosophy. But many leaders overlook this message.  They blame the company’s culture for the resistance they encounter.  This leads them to remove key leaders and old practices, restructure operations, and set in place new rewards and promotions. This approach is costly, disruptive, and risky.  Moreover, it takes years to accomplish.  Working in a culture that is under attack reduces employees’ energy and de-motivates them. Clearly, this is not a game for the faint of heart.  Worst of all, it is rarely successful; few major corporate transformations, especially those involving a wholesale change in the culture, achieve their intended performance goals. In “Stop Blaming Your Culture,” Spring 2011 Strategy+Business, Jon Katzenbach and Ashley Harshak offer sound advice on how you can avoid fighting the company’s culture and start using it instead to reinforce and build the new behaviors that will give you the high-performance company you want. Katzenbach is a senior partner with Booz & Company.  He is the author or co-author of nine books, including Leading Outside the Lines.  Harshak is a partner with Booz & Company As they explain, an organization’s culture can be defined as the set of deeply embedded, self-reinforcing behaviors, beliefs, and mindsets that determine “how we do things around here.” Unfortunately, many corporate leaders believe in the myth that, “Our culture is the root of all our problems.”  This becomes a convenient excuse for performance shortfalls.  “Our process-oriented culture inhibits collaboration,” managers say.  Or “our long-standing beliefs about nurturing people make us coddle weak performers.” Underlying this myth is a view that attitudes and beliefs shape...

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