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Four major cultures exist in every organisation. To get on you need to understand how to work the culture to your advantage.
The four cultures are Directive, Form, Social and Entrepreneurial.
Each of these four cultures can, and often do, exist together in the one organisation. All organisations have all four cultures to some degree reflecting human behaviour. However usually one is the dominant culture. At one level these cultures are defined by their extent of structure and control, but at a deeper level they are based on the dominant thinking preferences in the organisation: As such they can be measured directly using Herrmann’s Thinking Preferences.
Directive and Form cultures are dominated by left brain thinkers. Social and Entrepreneurial cultures are dominated by right brain thinkers.
Directive Cultures have Direct Control and Low Structure and are dominated by left brain thinkers (Herrmann's A Quadrant managers). This has been the main culture in organisations since the Industrial Revolution but recently its limitations have become more important and it has become the subject of many change initiatives over the last decade.
Directive cultures are not fun places to work, except for people who are complete automatons, or who have no real interest in their work and simply do it for the money. Directive cultures are often headed by strong, dominant leaders with charismatic personalities who provide a clear vision and purposeful direction. The leader is the source of wisdom, inspiration and authority and places high demand and expectations on staff, pushing them to achieve but also recognising their accomplishments and contributions.
Directive cultures are usually a hotbed of politics and undue energy is directed into "playing the game" rather then getting the job done; due to the disproportionate level of authority held by the leaders and executive management. Staff in this culture are extremely aware of the need to "carry favour" with the boss, who is prone to cultivate favourite staff members and to dispense gifts or curses at will. Managers who have the ear of the organisation's leader often behave like privileged earls at court, assuming authority by association and dispensing orders often without justification.
While the best political strategy in this culture may be to closely align oneself with the "powers that be," it is also dangerous to develop too close an alignment - in case of the leader's demise. In this culture, most people are trying to score points and not always for the right reasons.
Form Cultures have Direct Control and High Structure and are dominated by left brain feelers (Herrmann B quadrant managers). This culture focuses on systems and procedures, reducing the personal power of individual leaders and subjecting all behaviours to structure and policy.
The Form culture plays a very important role in corporate life. Often internal departments, such as finance and administration, have a Form culture. Some professions and institutions, such as engineering, accountancy and hospitals adopt a Form culture as their dominant culture because of the demands created by the mass of detail they generate. For other organisations, such a culture is better contained within specific departments.
Form cultures are theoretically the least political of all of the styles. The high levels of structure and procedure limit the ability of individuals to promote their own cases and "bend the rules" to their own advantage. Because there are policy statements and documented guidelines for every situation, very little is left up to individual interpretation or discretion, so there is not much value in trying to influence management in order to attract favour.
On the whole. Form cultures are generally less political, but anyone who has worked in an organisation with this culture would attest to the high levels of political intrigue that still manage to take place. The politics is different to that for the Directive culture, as it focuses on using or leveraging the rules to achieve personal gain.
Social Cultures have Indirect Control and High Structure and are dominated by right braines feelers (Herrmann's C Quadrant managers). This culture is based on relationships and a common reliance that exists between the organisation and the individual.
As you can imagine, the political climate within the Social culture is very stable. The high degree of structure ensures that everyone clearly knows their roles and responsibilities, similar to the Form culture. However, the low levels of control in the Social culture leave a large amount of flexibility for discretionary use of authority. People are trusted and empowered, so it is possible to use personal power to influence others to achieve individual goals. Interestingly, this option is not often used by those truly steeped in the Social culture. They are typically too aware of the needs of their fellow workers and conscious of not offending people to set out to influence others strategically for their own gain.
Entrepreneurial Cultures have Low Structure and Indirect Control and are dominated by right brain thinkers (Herrmann's D Quadrant managers). This culture produces a work situation that is highly energised and focuses on creating a motivated environment. The vision is clear and everyone works toward a goal that is "bigger than themselves."
Entrepreneurial cultures have very loose structures and decision-making authority is shared across many levels of the organisation, so, as you can imagine, politics dominate within this culture. In fact, political skills, or the ability to develop relationships and influence people, are considered both necessary and valuable.
Often the degree of authority people have is not determined by their position but rather by their ability to gain trust and respect through competent performance and by exuding personal confidence. Because there are so few rules and structural guidelines, "getting things done" through unconventional channels is considered a valued skill - the result is what matters in the end. Entrepreneurial cultures are not for the politically faint hearted; they often epitomise the "cut and thrust" of organisational politics. Those who understand the principles and can play the game inevitably do well in this culture.
No one culture is universally best in all circumstances, and all organisations are a mixture of all four cultures.
In the current business environment, the Entrepreneurial culture is the one preferred by many organisations. With the need for organisations to achieve greater results, increased flexibility in meeting market demands and increased responsiveness to customer expectations - the Entrepreneurial culture is well suited to these conditions. However, this culture is a bittersweet pill. While there is much to gain by embracing it, there are major downsides. The tendency to have excessive expectations of staff, the waste of resources and the extremely high levels of politicking create an environment of high stress and tension.
Many organisations that embrace the Entrepreneurial culture are looking to build their Social culture in a secondary role in order to provide some balance. Where the Entrepreneurial culture tends to overextend staff, the social culture provides excellent support. A mix of the two, while difficult to achieve, certainly does have merit.
All organisations need a mixture of all types (A, B, C, and D quadrant) of people to work effectively. The ideal is to have a balance of types who understand each other and cherish those who are different. Unfortunately many organisations don’t understand this basic truth.
For example, a Directive Culture is quite likely to undervalue people in the C quadrant even though these are exactly the types required to make them more human. It’s human nature to be drawn to and value those who are most like us. The single most important thing about using Herrmann’s Thinking Preferences is that people start to understand and value those who are different to them. They realise that they need people who are different to cover their weaknesses so they can develop their strengths even further.
If you find yourself in a culture that does not value the way you think, you will never feel confident to do your best work. Often without understanding why, you will feel as though you are swimming against the current and putting in more energy than required.
Many organisations achieve only a small fraction of their potential because they are stuck with yesterday’s culture.
A great deal of my work is working with managers who are sick of silos, slowness and small-thinking; managers who want to become more focused, fast and flexible. This almost always implies a move towards a more right brained way of working, increasing the emphasis of the Social Culture and especially the Entrepreneurial Culture.
I hope you make 2007 your year to correct your cultural settings.
Bruce Holland Virtual Group Business Consultants
Liberating the human spirit at work
I really believe there is a better way of making work happen - It’s mostly about breaking down silos and creating more depth, connection and meaning.