You Can’t Fix Organizational Culture

The April edition of the Harvard Business Review featured an article called “You Can’t Fix Culture – Just focus on Your Business and the Rest Will Follow”.  Authors Jay Lorsh and Emily McTague make the case that while many believe that the solution to organizational challenges is to “change the culture”, this is not a prescription worth pursuing. They contend that changing an organization’s practices to address real, tangible business challenges will result in creating a different organizational culture. In other words, setting out to change an organization’s culture is not an end in itself, but rather the outcome of the organization’s efforts to change its business practices. Let me illustrate this with an example.

Gears with people working in sync

One organization that I have supported for many years had a rudimentary business planning discipline.  One could say that they lacked a ‘planning culture’ and the consequences of this were clear.  At the end of each year it was impossible to say that targets were met or unmet and variances couldn’t be explained because no clear budget had been set beyond the previous year’s results.

Implementing a planning culture required:

  • A strategic plan – outlining three fundamental priorities that remain in place today;
  • An annual operating plan – that made the strategy tangible.
  • A capital planning process – for big expensive projects.

All of these practices are now embedded in the organization’s operating practices and nobody questions the value – they have successfully implemented a planning culture and are able to measure and report on their activities.

My point?

This organization did not set out to fix their organizational culture, as Lorsh and McTague pointed out, the leadership of the organization focused on improving the business practices and the by-product is now a “planning culture”.

Do you have a similar experience in your organization?  Are you trying to “fix” your culture?  I would love to hear how you are going about this.

Watch for my next blog as I provide some thoughts about implementing a culture of continuous improvement.