Saturday, May 04, 2013

What’s Your Culture?

In this post I want to talk about company culture. Every company has a culture. Some are outstanding, perhaps some are close to criminal, but I guess most are just mediocre.

How do you know where in this spectrum between star and rubbish your company’s culture is located?

I think a good way of telling is whether you were given the opportunity and the freedom to improve the way you work. Are you working on new projects that lead to a significant improvement of the processes you use and as a result significantly improved benefits for your customers?

Let’s look at a randomly made up example. A team is working on a product that is a combination of hardware, firmware, software and services. The product has not been introduced to the market yet. However you know that you need to finish the project by the end of the month. “Finish” does not mean that you have all features complete that you thought you must have. Instead it means a cross-functional effort between product management, hardware engineers, software developers, marketing, sales and probably a whole raft of others.

In that collaboration the team will understand that it may not be able to ship every single feature, but it will also understand the priority of each feature as each feature has a different business value to the company and to the customer. Let’s assume that in this given example a demo in the first week of the next month is highly likely to lead to receiving a significant order.

With the wrong culture the team would do it’s 8 to 5 job and then go home. No creativity would be invested and you may even see the occasional finger-pointing. Progress would be slow.

With a different culture the team would band together working towards that objective. A sense of excitement would be visible within the team. The team would collaborate, think beyond the boundaries of their “official” role (e.g. developer) and they would be very creative to find even simpler and faster solutions that would allow to stitch together a product that would be good enough for the purpose. They would throw in as many extra hours without the need to be asked or be instructed. The team would do whatever it takes to achieve the objective. They would know that they can make decisions and they would get the tools and the support to get the job done.

The leadership in both of these cases is quite different. It is very likely that the former breathes of micromanagement and bureaucracy. Maybe getting new hardware and software is close to impossible and always requires a lengthy process for ordering and procurement.

The leadership in the latter is most likely more hands-off. It’s management by exception or management by objective. If the team needs a new tool, hardware or software, the decision can be made within hours if not minutes rather than weeks or months. The leadership would embody trust towards the individuals in the team, willing to take the risk that things can go wrong when you push the envelope.

How do you know that you are in the right culture? First of all you need to decide for yourself what company culture you want to work in. Then ask yourself a few very simple questions that I believe are indicative of what the actual culture is in your company. Questions include:

  • Am I working on a project that challenges me, the team and the approach we take>
  • Is the project leading to improvements of the product, the processes you use, learning for yourself?
  • How do you interact with customers? Do you have direct interaction or do you have ‘men in the middle’?
  • How long does it take to get new tools like hardware or software? Is the duration measured in hours and days rather weeks or months? Do you see new tools arriving in your team on a regular basis, e.g. at least once per month?
  • What is the attrition rate in your team? Are people replaced immediately? How easy is it to replace people?

I’m sure there are plenty of other indications that help. The important thing is that you do not judge your leadership by what they say but by what they do. Once you know what culture you are looking for and what culture your present company has, it’s easy to come to the right conclusion. Perhaps you like it. Perhaps the time has come to move on.

What if there was a significant change in culture? My recommendation in that case would be: Don’t make any quick decisions. I that case hang in there for a few more weeks or months. Sometimes things don’t turn out as bad as they might appear initially. You can still make a different decision once the new culture becomes clearer to you.

Here is a link with yet another set of aspects regarding a company’s culture. It’s a post by Grant Cardone.


Management Development said...

Company culture can be difficult to determine though I feel. I'm not a huge fan of micromanagement leadership styles.

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