Corporate Culture & Document Design Strategy

Published in TDAN.com April 2005

The culture of your organization can either support your strategy or work against it as a significant barrier. All organizations have a subjective or invisible culture that will influence your
success or failure. You may have a culture that stops the forward progress of a change initiative while the same initiative in another company is implemented quite easily. Experts estimate that
between fifty and seventy percent of all reengineering efforts fail, often because a culture does not accept new approaches. You must prepare for and accept the fact that the culture of your
organization has a significant and potentially negative influence on your ability to implement your strategy.

While sets of engineering drawings or system schematics adequately depict the performance of a piece of equipment, the performance of a company is rarely encapsulated in its organizational charts,
strategic plans or mission statement. The difference is the effect of corporate culture on the way things actually get done. Your firm’s culture can be of great assistance to you if it is
receptive to new ideas and adept at change. But if your culture prevents your company from accepting change – essentially holding the company hostage – then your efforts to implement your strategy
will be severely inhibited if not repressed altogether.

Corporate culture provides the human glue that can rally the collective energy of your company toward improvements and accomplishments, or it can be the glue that fastens your organization to “the
way things have always been.” Like the personality of a person, the culture of an organization is not something that is readily apparent at first glance. But after you get to know it, you begin to
see the shared beliefs and unwritten ground rules that determine the ways in which your organization and its people behave.


What Kind of Culture do you have?

It is important to understand your current culture, its strengths and style, and its potential to either help or hinder your efforts. One of the biggest challenges in trying to understand your own
culture is that it is difficult for an insider to recognize the strengths, styles and potential. Overcome this by observing your organization as if you were an outsider. Here are a number of clues:

  • What gets attention in conversations and in meetings? If, for example, 90 percent of a typical meeting is spent talking about reducing costs, and 10 percent is spent on how the
    customers are feeling, then you probably have more of a cost-driven than a customer-driven culture.
  • Notice people’s behavior. Make a list of behaviors that you see every day. Do the behaviors you observe contribute to or detract from your efforts?
  • Look at your policies and procedures. If you have shelves of policy manuals that describe in detail how people must perform the duties of their job and how they must conduct
    themselves at work, then chances are that your culture is one where people tend to follow the rules and avoid risk. If you have only a few casual guidelines written up in one manual, your culture
    may be more entrepreneurial with lots of new ideas and free flowing communication.
  • What are the “hero stories?” The behaviors and actions that become legend within your company are strong indicators of your culture. Who do people talk about with pride and
    respect? Who gets rousing applause at meetings? What are the behaviors that warrant that applause? Hero stories model the behavior of employees that is expected by your corporate culture.
  • Get feedback. Ask employees (especially new employees) to describe the culture and personality of your company or department.


Characteristics of a High Performance Culture

While you cannot really see your corporate culture, you can observe the behavior or actions of people that set the norms for your organization. Every company is different and has both positive and
negative characteristics. Even companies of similar size in the same industry will have different cultures, just as twins who grow up in the same household can be very different.

There is no perfect culture, but the following chart summarizes some of the characteristics found in high performing organizations. Organizations that embrace, adopt and implement change easily
generally exhibit these high performance characteristics, while those that perform less admirably experience the corresponding cultural barriers to change.


Tips for Combating the Negative Aspects of Culture

What can you do if your corporate culture does not exhibit the high performance characteristics listed above? Here are a few principles that will help you overcome a less-than-high performing
culture:

  • Practice what you preach. You must model the behavior you wish were present in other people. Any change to corporate culture must start with key leaders, and as a document
    strategist you are a leader regardless of your rank or position. People will look to you as a role model and a guide to follow. Your commitment and leadership will directly influence whether or
    not the rest of the organization will follow.
  • Reinforce new and positive behaviors. The practice of catching people doing the right things is a key to overcoming bad cultural habits. Provide reinforcing feedback on a
    day-to-day basis and build into your strategy a system for people to offer feedback to others.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. You must reiterate the message of your strategy over and over. If you preach the virtues of your plan with simplicity, consistency and
    repetition, you will eventually get through to people. Changing aspects of your corporate culture requires a steady continuum that finally reaches a critical mass.
  • Consistency. You do not want people within your organization to consider your strategy as just another “gimmick of the month.” If they do, you can be assured your plan will
    soon be a thing of the past. Your evangelist message must be the same month after month, and, if needed, year after year. While some of the aspects of your strategy will, and must, be revised as
    you progress, the essential message concerning how documents, technology and people need to perform should stay the same.
  • Passion. You must believe in your strategy and feel passionate about it, or no one else will. You must communicate your enthusiasm and passion to the rest of the organization at
    every opportunity. You must pay nearly obsessive attention to sharing your passion with the people who must adopt and support your strategy.


Change Cultural History

You may need to alter “cultural history” in order to enact your document strategy. If the history in your organization is a legacy of resistance to change, slow progress toward improvements and
the avoidance of risk, you may need to change the norm of how things typically get done. One way to overcome negative cultural history is by both acknowledging it and denying it. Take a rebellious
stance against the cultural dysfunction that prevents improvement from happening successfully.

If your company has difficulty actually implementing improvements, or often fails to complete process reengineering efforts, turn things around by building a reputation that says: “We always
implement!” With this as your mantra, live up to your promise by selecting solutions that can be successfully implemented…and implement them. Build your reputation as a person or department who
can implement a beneficial change and make it stick. People will begin to say: “Those guys always implement!” By demonstrating consistent success in the face of resistance you will begin to
change cultural history.

If you become known for your ability to change things for the better, people will become excited about working with you and supporting your strategy. This is another instance where your earlier
work will pay off. Perhaps your cultural history is one where improvements are not implemented because there has not been a clear understanding of what needed to be changed in the first place and
why. People struggle, become frustrated and quit because they do not recognize problems and hindrances ahead of time. As mentioned before, the effort you put into assessment, evaluation and
planning falls into the “pay now or pay later” category. If you have followed the process outlined in earlier chapters, you’ve paid your dues. People may resist and disparage your efforts, but
if you have done your homework you are in a position to minimize or remove the barriers to your success and rewrite cultural history.

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About Kevin Craine

The author, Kevin Craine, EDPP is Supervisor of the Output Management, Electronic Publishing and Corporate Forms departments for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon. Kevin can be reached at 503/225-5213. Visit his web site at: http://members.aol.com/kccrain/craine.html.

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