Magazine article People & Strategy

Corporate Culture: Illuminating the Black Hole

Magazine article People & Strategy

Corporate Culture: Illuminating the Black Hole

Article excerpt

Corporate Culture: Illuminating the Black Hole

Author: Jerome Want

Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2006.

Corporate culture has become a popular topic in management and business circles, and one need only glance briefly at any scholarly literature or popular business publications for the proof of its popularity. It influences many facets of an organization and is reflected in myriad processes (e.g., leadership, management effectiveness, communication, decision making, organizational behavior, and in tolerance for risk and innovation), which heavily influence the bottom line of an organization. In the western business world, managers often look for the "quick fix" to help their organizations become more successful, often judging success by the bottom line (Mamman & Saffu, 1998; Kilmann, 1989) instead of focusing on culture and lasting success.

In his book, Corporate Culture: Illuminating the Black Hole, Dr. Jerome Want recognizes these trends. He posits that corporate culture has been under-appreciated, underutilized, and widely misunderstood as a lever for sustainable success. This book provides an excellent reference to a broad view of corporate culture in US organizations.

Corporate culture, as defined by the author, is the reflection of "attitudes, belief systems, dreams, behaviors, rites and rituals of the company ... [as well as evident] through the conduct and performance of its employees and management" (p. 42). Although culture is of utmost importance to the maintenance and development of any organization, it is commonly ignored or put on the back burner by many executives. When organizations are experiencing shortcomings, they fail to key in on culture as a cause and culture building as a solution, in favor of fads and fix-all solutions.

This book calls attention to the importance of corporate culture in today's radically changing business world, through a discussion of the business change cycle and the hierarchy of corporate cultures. Throughout the book there is an emphasis on the need for close evaluation of culture as the reason for failure or success of a given organizational entity. Further, the author provides ample anecdotal evidence for a direct connection between high-performing cultures and strong financial outcomes. The reader of this book learns the importance of corporate culture to continued success in the rapidly changing, increasingly global business world, as well as how to identify failing and high-performing cultures, and gains insight to different applications to develop, maintain, and enhance culture.

The author contends that culture is recognized by organizational leaders, but often is not viewed as important. As illustrated in the text, corporate leaders typically have one of three responses when asked about culture: "I don't know,.... I don't know how," and "I don't care" (p. 148). The problem with these responses is that in fast-changing business climates, leaders with the ability to evaluate and continually develop their cultures are a necessity. Higher-level managers have a direct influence on the culture of their organization and its influence on performance outcomes. More often than not, if top-level managers do not view an issue as important, other members of the organization will not see it as crucial either.

Leaders and managers of high-performing cultures realize that building, maintaining, and continually developing a culture is a complex, difficult, and dynamic task. They also realize that culture change is not going to work if they simply try to change employee values without changing how the organization operates (Schermerhorn, et al., 2004). Further, good managers realize that positive culture change will not come from increased downsizing, radical restructuring, or one-time fixes.

The author does an outstanding job of providing a number of examples, including Enron, Kmart, AOL, Harley Davidson, and Nucor, to illustrate how different leadership techniques can result in positive or negative cultural momentum. …

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