Rites and Rituals: Culture in Action
When critics lambasted Napoleon for reinstituting the merely symbolic and practically worthless Legion of Honor medal, he replied, "You lead men by baubles, not words." This sounds cynical, but actually it's a realistic view of human nature. Achievements deserve recognition, and recognition in turn motivates even greater accomplishments. Like Napoleon's army, a corporate culture -- and the values it embodies -- must be ritualized and celebrated if it's going to thrive.
But celebration and hoopla, as we all know, are only a small part of corporate life -- albeit a larger part of the life of strong culture companies. What about the day-to-day activities in a corporate culture?
Marvin Bower in The Will To Manage describes a manager's responsibility to spell out for his or her employees "the way we do things around here." Bower's implicit assumption was that unless you tell people what you want them to do and how you want them to do it, you have no right to expect them to infer, by some mysterious alchemic process, just what you had in mind. Therefore, you have no real right to expect them to do what you want them to do.
Strong culture companies understand this dilemma very well. They communicate exactly how they want their people to behave. They spell out standards of acceptable decorum -- so people who visit or work in any of their places of business can know what to expect. They call attention to the way in which procedures -- for example, strategic planning and budgeting -- are to be carried out, so the fault if the procedures fail is substantive, not just a failure to follow prescribed process. Often they also establish ways, or at