Successful Implementation of a Corporate Culture

A Fast Company Blog post from a few days ago contained the following bit about corporate culture.

Because it's the walk, not the talk that matters. If you're not changing attitudes, practices, or processes, talking about "corporate culture" is blowing so much smoke.

Now the Journal of Marketing contains a study to back that up. Two companies attempting to implement a customer-centric corporate culture were examined. One failed while the other succeeded, and the study authors think they know why.

The key findings support the understanding of the role of leadership, interfunctional coordination, and the collection and dissemination of customer-focused data in the transformation process. First, the data suggest that for staff to internalize a customer orientation, staff must experience an unbroken chain of passionate, sincere, unified, and committed leadership from top levels executives to local managers. Any break in connectivity dilutes and can even negate top leaders' positive influence, especially if the break occurs in close proximity to workers. This study demonstrates that change leadership must cascade throughout the organization to the point of service delivery for a customer orientation to emerge.

Second, the authors find interdepartmental connectedness to be critical for effective implementation. When the schools directly addressed complex requirements from both internal and external customers, conflicts across functional areas diminished, thus reducing tensions and blame tossing in the organization. The transformation became a positive force in the organization and galvanized the functional specializations within the organization toward meeting a cohesive set of organization-wide performance requirements. With interlocking customer needs, staff members more tightly connected to other functional groups and to various key customers, which resulted in greater communication of shared expectations and intrastaff support.

Third, the data highlight the importance of customer-focused data being used across the organization by many stakeholders, including midlevel managers, faculty, parents, and students. A culture emerges in which the grand achievements become a matter of accomplishing manageable tasks that yield measurable effects in data aligned to critical outcome measures. The impact of empowerment that arises from making these causal connections can hardly be overstated. Performance is manageable and success is within reach.

In other words, you can't just talk culture change – you have to walk it too. The biggest problem with implementing this kind of change, in my limited experience, is a lack of following-up. Everyone gets together and says "rah rah let's put the customer first" or whatever, then goes back to what they were doing before. If you are leader it starts with you, and your enthusiasm and commitment have to make it all the way down to the workers on the front lines. It is your job to follow-up and make sure that happens.