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What makes your culture so fucking special?

What makes your culture so fucking special?

I was told my questions about organisational culture were too subtle. Change of tack.

And it's a serious question. What makes your culture so fucking special?

Because everybody makes the claim theirs is. With scant evidence. Let's look at why that's the case.

Then

Organisational culture became a thing in the 1980s. It died a bit of a death in the 2000s. It's now back with a bang.

There are two basic arguments about cultural forms.

  1. There is a 'one best' cultural form that will work for any organisation
  2. Different cultural forms fit different organisational types

The 'one best' argument was championed by Tom Peter. He argued that there were 8 components that made up a great culture. If your culture had all eight it would be excellent.

The 'different horses' argument was championed by Deal & Kennedy (below), Charles Handy, and, later, OCAI. They argued that there were four different types of culture that you could fit to four different types of organisation.

Peters' work quickly soured. Many of the organisations he identified as excellent ran into trouble soon after his book was published. Some no longer exist.

The acidly titled "In Search of Stupidity" points out that it was specifically the high-tech companies Peters identified as excellent that began to struggle. Why? Because they became complacent about their excellence and stopped learning from mistakes.

Some people even argue we've never found any real evidence that culture-change brings long-term organisational success. Everything gets post-rationalised. The organisation does well because it has good culture, then fails because, well, actually, the culture was bad. See Wells Fargo as exhibit number oneEnron as exhibit number two. And any other number of bloody exhibits.

Even so, the idea that you could have the same culture in any organisation, no matter the country, industry, size or product, proved wildly popular. Despite it being insane!

And then it sort of stopped. Culture was dead - or so it seemed.

Now

But now it's back. With a vengeance. Don't read this bit if you are of a nervous disposition.

Culture is fucking everywhere. Read a job ad. Every no-name company has a great, exciting, fun or unique culture.

Every bloody one of them.

Like that claim's going to make you want to get a job with them. Dudes, a fucking foosball table isn't a core cultural symbol.

Even the big firms are back at it. We hear of risk culturesinnovative culturessafety culturescreative cultures. What does this all mean? I've yet to hear a convincing description of any of them?

That's 8 types without even the need to take a breath.

But they are all variants of the same theme.

They all have value statements, which value integrity, honesty, transparency, trust, openness etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Plus foosball tables and gym memberships if you're lucky.

They're not exactly going to claim they value dark Machiavellianism or cynicism, irony and sarcasm, are they? Although perhaps they should. Because the evidence suggests they always emerge anyway.

Then they try to measure the culture through surveys. To see if the values it aspires to occur in reality.

That's pointless. You're not exactly going to say you don't trust the managers in an environment of low trust and nasty reprisals, are you? Because you fear it will get you sacked and you'll end up on the street begging for a half-eaten hamburger and scrounging for cigarette butts.

Companies also try to maintain a culture through culture-fit. Also pointless. People lie in tests and fake interview personas to get a job just as easily as they fake happiness to keep one.

They are meaningless exercises in compliance that cost a fortune, telling us nothing of much interest.

Why do we do all this? Because getting your culture right is a core competitive advantage. Except it isn't. There's no evidence it is. Or ever has been.

Or am I wrong and speaking out of turn. If so...

What makes your culture so fucking special?

I want to know.

 

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The Ironic Manager seriously rethinks how organisations work at the most fundamental level and offers a variety of solutions for businesses struggling to cope with the ambiguity and stresses inherent to contemporary organisational conditions of constant change.

Richard has been helping businesses and people deal with leadership, management, communication, technology and change for over twenty years through his training, coaching, speaking and consulting services. 

His innovative research is highly regarded by world-leaders in management and leadership. 

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Over twenty years helping people managing change understand why resistance happens and develop quality vital communication skills that aid successful business transformation.

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