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Corporate Culture

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:35 PM

It used to be that mainframers worked on mainframes. They didn’t really know or care which company they worked for—they just worked on the mainframe. They were experts in CICS, IMS and/or DB2—and one company was pretty much like another. The only difference was the commute time and the salary. But now companies are concerned about their culture, and (in some companies) there is a difference. You can tell where you work by the ambience and mood of the place (not just the toys that are left out).

You hear people say things like: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” which is attributed to Peter Drucker. And you see people nod their heads as though the statement actually means anything. Of course, culture and strategy are words that you can’t put in a wheelbarrow—they don’t refer to real things. So what I understand by culture and strategy may be quite different from what you think those words mean. But what it does flag up is that corporate execs think culture is important.

So, if we did all think the word culture means the same thing, what would we think it means? The Business Directory defines corporate or organizational culture as: “The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.” It goes on to say: “Organizational culture includes an organization’s expectations, experiences, philosophy and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world and future expectations. It is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid. It’s shown in:

  • The ways the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers and the wider community,
  • The extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas and personal expression,
  • How power and information flow through its hierarchy, and
  • How committed employees are towards collective objectives
“It affects the organization’s productivity and performance, and provides guidelines on customer care and service, product quality and safety, attendance and punctuality, and concern for the environment.

“It also extends to production-methods, marketing and advertising practices, and to new product creation. Organizational culture is unique for every organization and one of the hardest things to change.”

Various authors have complicated things by suggesting that organizations often have subcultures, which could be a reference to what mainframers are doing. The authors suggest that these co-existing or conflicting subcultures exist because each subculture is linked to a different management team.

James L Heskett has suggested that culture “can account for 20 to 30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” So which companies have outstanding cultures? Google is usually held up as an example. It provides free meals, employee trips and parties, financial bonuses, open presentations by high-level executives, gyms, a dog-friendly environment, etc. In return, its staff are driven, talented and among the best of the best. Similarly, Facebook provides lots of food, stock options, open office space, on-site laundry, a focus on teamwork and open communication, a competitive atmosphere that fosters personal growth and learning, and great benefits. On the down side, a free and organic organizational structure that works for smaller organization is less successful for the larger one. Adobe likes to avoid micromanaging its staff, and managers take on the role of a coach, more than anything, letting employees set goals and determine how they should be assessed. Employees are given stock options and continual training. Thanks to Sujan Patel for this information about corporate culture.

How does Google’s, Facebook’s or Adobe’s culture match the culture where you work? I wonder. So, what are the components of great culture? John Coleman in an article at Harvard Business Review has some suggestions:

  • Vision: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. A vision statement is a simple but foundational element of culture.
  • Values: A company’s values are the core of its culture. Values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision.
  • Practices: Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. Whatever an organization’s values, they must be reinforced in review criteria and promotion policies, and baked into the operating principles of daily life in the firm.
  • People: No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. That’s why the greatest firms in the world also have some of the most stringent recruiting policies. People stick with cultures they like, and bringing on the right “culture carriers” reinforces the culture an organization already has.
  • Narrative: Any organization has a unique history, and the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. These narratives are more powerful when identified, shaped, and retold as a part of a firm’s ongoing culture.
  • Place: Place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviors, like collaboration. Place—whether geography, architecture or aesthetic design—impacts the values and behaviors of people in a workplace.
Coleman suggests that there are other factors that influence culture, but these six components can provide a firm foundation for shaping a new organization’s culture. And identifying and understanding them more fully in an existing organization can be the first step to revitalizing or reshaping culture in a company looking for change.

It’s interesting that something so ethereal as ‘culture’ can make so much difference to a company’s success. It’s a shame that all the examples quoted are non-mainframe-using organizations. But I still wonder whether, for most companies, there is a specific and identifiable culture. Or is it the case that for most people in most companies, they wouldn’t notice a cultural difference is they started working at a different company. Things haven’t changed much since the days when mainframers didn’t really know or care which organization they worked for.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on this post or what you have experienced in the comments below.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and has been an IBM Champion every year since 2009.
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