I frequently get calls asking about organizational culture

I frequently get calls asking about organizational culture. These questions usually arise from either a real or imagined crises resulting from some form of merger or acquisition. Whether between departments merging within a shrinking company or between companies joining forces, the issues are similar. Shouts of “I want everyone to be singing from the same page!” are heard echoing down executive corridors.

While the desired outcome may be similar, the road traveled will be different depending on if it is, in fact, a merger or an acquisition. Many leaders try to hide an acquisition under the term “merger” because they do not want to be seen as consuming another group. Too harsh, bad image, loads of potential negative feelings; especially from the acquired party. Little do they realize that it really doesn’t matter what you call it because everyone will feel the pain of change. Honesty and clarity, however, are always the best policies here. In an acquisition, the acquirer is in charge. It is their policies that count, their people placed in key leadership positions. People in the acquired company feel somewhat resentful of the invasion/takeover. In a merger, best practices rule. The best of each company is used to make the entire enterprise grow and succeed. Positions of authority are divided up pretty much evenly.

Once you have come clean on the merger/acquisition, you need to get everyone moving in the same direction; under the same culture. Here’s where the fun begins because it is a rarity that you will find two identical cultures; either between two merging companies or even between two departments within the same company.

There are generally four different cultures that you will find within your organization; Pummel, Push, Pull, and Pamper. A Pummel culture is one that is terribly threatening. There is high stress and people are constantly looking over their shoulders. It is usually created by a boss who is heard shouting, “My way, or the highway” with blood-curdling regularity. A Push culture is one that is also threatening, but the threat is perceived as situation-based, not boss-based. The threat comes from outside the company; the competition taking food off your plate. A Pull culture is one driven by a vision of the future; accompanied by a pathway of activities designed to get you there. A Pamper culture is one in which people are not held accountable for outcomes; very laissez-faire.

The ideal situation created by effective leaders is a combination Push-Pull. Sort of one-two punch. People are threatened by the stark reality of a somber situation (e.g., constant reminding of the gaining competition – a 2X4 to the side of the head – gets people’s attention) combined with a way out of their stress via a pathway towards future success. A light at the end of the tunnel sort of thing. This only works, though, if you, as leader, are consistent across your activities. You cannot be considered a good leader, for example, if you are Pummel in handing out assignments but Pamper when it comes to giving feedback.

• Check out your behaviors

• Get feedback from others

• Take a long look at yourself in the mirror

• Make a checklist of the things you need to do to be more consistent

• Partner with other leaders to talk about creating a common set of leadership behaviors that will create a common culture across the entire organization

• Look at the performance feedback dimensions to make sure you are measuring the things consistent with your culture

Partnering is a big part of an effective culture. If the expectations are set up front that one of the values you hold near and dear is the concept of coordination and collaboration within and between departments (and levels), and if you bolster this belief through the use of effective performance feedback systems, then partnering will become engrained and your organization will grow and prosper.

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