Understanding Culture and Subcultures for Efficient and Sustainable Transformation

By Murray, Suzanne; Lazure, Patrice et al. | People & Strategy, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Understanding Culture and Subcultures for Efficient and Sustainable Transformation


Murray, Suzanne, Lazure, Patrice, Peloquin, Sophie, People & Strategy


For 20 years, our organization, AXDEV, has supported transformation across various business sectors, allowing us to observe barriers that can affect the desire of leaders to foster a collective organizational culture. To illustrate our experience, we present a case example of a major International Pharmaceutical Company (hereafter referred to as "the Company") that we guided through a major business model transformation.

The Company had been operating for many years in a business model where decision-making power was decentralized, and each company business unit was functioning in silos.

The Destination (or Horizon)

The Company had clearly defined the strategic change it wanted to implement, as well as the desired outcomes and destination--to move from independent functions operating in silos to an interrelated and interdependent network of functions, where each function is fully aware of the roles and responsibilities of all other functions within the company. Furthermore, the strategic vision implied that each function would acknowledge how other functions are able to support and complement their own, leading to continuous and efficient inter-functional collaboration and communication. This transformation is illustrated in Exhibit 1. On the left side of the figure, the different functions within the company (f1 to f4) are operating in silos, with very little collaboration and communication between them, inevitably leading to duplication of work, inefficiencies, and misinterpretation of the core desired organizational culture. The desired strategic destination is illustrated on the right side of the figure, where the different arrows symbolize channels of communication and collaboration between functions. The desired strategic destination was a model of inter-functional collaboration, where duplication of information and inefficiencies would be reduced.

Understanding Barriers and the Impact of Subcultures

After review of the current and desired situations, the next step was to better understand the behavioral and attitudinal barriers (and their underlying causalities) to the successful implementation of the change, the specific needs of each team, as well as specific personality traits and subculture profiles that had formed based on the collective experience. Dialogue sessions and interviews, using open-ended exploratory questions, were conducted with key leaders and employees from each function, to better understand how the individuals understood the desired strategic change, the destination, and the new business model. Employees and leaders were also asked to describe what they perceived as the current barriers to change implementation, to discuss their competencies, and the facilitators assessed their attitude, confidence and personal barriers to engage towards the new destination.

They were also asked to describe how they perceived their respective functions, teams and the interactions between the individuals within each function. This allowed for the identification of gaps in the knowledge of other functions' roles and responsibilities, in the communication processes, and in identifying shared goals between functions. Nodes of resistance to collaboration, specific duplication of work between functions, and attitudinal barriers were also identified, as well as different needs between functions. For example, the medical affairs team, who tend to be more analytical given the scientific nature of their work, required to see more evidence of a need for a business transformation.

The marketing team had a focus on the commercial and financial impact of the transformation and the sales force teams were concerned about the impact on clients. Finally the current leadership team was most concerned about how to engage individuals with a more traditional change management process across the board (one-size-fits-all) and assumed the organization's employees would follow the new direction in a similar fashion. …

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