Take a Wrecking Ball to Your Company’s Iconic Practices

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Why do companies adhere to outdated practices and procedures that no longer serve a useful purpose?  More importantly, what can be done to identify and eliminate these practices?  A leading management researcher from the London Business School will provide the answers you need.

Most leaders today are trying to help their organizations become

  • more agile,
  • more innovative,
  • more digitally savvy, and
  • more customer-centric

But according to Herminia Ibarra, of London Business School, sooner or later, though, they come up against entrenched values and behaviors, and progress stalls.  That’s particularly true with digital transformation.  Experts concur that traditional mindsets and “ways of doing things around here” — the lay definition of culture — are the primary culprits hindering the fundamental transformation that emerging technologies are meant to enable.

But organizational culture is hard to change. It’s intangible; there are no direct levers for controlling it.  As MIT’s Ed Schein has noted, what an organization’s leaders pay close attention to and shower with time — not what they talk about — will provide the best clues about its culture.  Think about it as the difference between a formal value statement and what employees say about the company on Glassdoor.  There is typically a large gulf between stated aspiration and experienced reality.

When they confront that gulf, leaders often fall into one of two traps: over-relying on formal, structural changes such as (new lines of reporting, new jobs, or new work units) in an effort to eventually shift people’s mindsets, or simply leaving the job of culture change to HR, hoping that with time, training, and repetition, the new slogans will become reality. of course, neither approach works.

In her ongoing research on how established organizations transform for the digital age, Ibarra has observed a third way that yields better results — identifying and then eliminating (or dramatically modifying) iconic practices.  These are practices that are emblematic of historical-cultural values, but whose continued existence sends mixed messages about the organization’s desire to change.

Iconic practices originate to...

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