Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Importance of Corporate Culture

Last night I attended the MIT Enterprise Forum panel session "People, Money, Markets and Big Ideas." Each of four panelists shared important lessons learned in their careers, and more than a few interesting stories. If you haven't been to a Forum event, I highly recommend them.

One of the panelists was Michael Duffy, CEO of OpenPages. Michael shared his lesson learned on the importance of setting a corporate culture right away. He explained his belief that it is important to "capture people's hearts." For the practical leaders out there, he outlined three key steps to setting and maintaining a corporate culture:

  • Write down the culture you want and share it.
  • Put a rewards system in place that reinforces the cultural values.
  • Hold orientations for all new employees to share that culture.

By the way, another panelist was Monster founder Jeff Taylor. He shared the nugget that the most active time on Monster is Mondays at 2:00. I'll let you connect the dots.


Anonymous said...

Wow, if that is the plan Duffy used to create the culture at OpenPages, then I would suggest leaders take this approach:

1. Do not write the culture down.
2. Do not reward the values.
3. Do not hold orientations.

Obviously I'm griding an axe here and being a little silly, but in all seriousness I'd offer this: corporate cultures are organic and thrive independently of some of the more explicit attempts to shape them. If you ever look at the corporate values etched into steel signs posted around the office, they are generally hard to argue. However, don't you get the sense that they are often far from operationalized in the organization? Moreover, aren't there sometimes multiple cultures in one organization? There is a big difference between the culture of a group sitting in the corporate offices of, say, an HQ in Waltham than those in the field (namely, Sales). The steel signs with values imprinted typically don't hold up against certain undermining leader behaviours, like micromanagement, continual "inspection," distrust, etc.

I agree that creating a cuture blueprint is important, but I also think that the culture takes more cues from the less intentional leader behaviours as well as the varying group dynamics among the divisions of a company. Sure, write down the corporate values. It is a very Jack Welsh thing to do. But back it up with a true sensitivity to what actually drives success or demotivates good behaviour, or loyalty....

Ken Flowers said...

It's easy to see that Duffy's words don't match your experience. That should give us a leadership lesson on the importance of matching our actions to our stated values. Thanks for the comment.