Once upon a time, there was a university in one of the largest Polish towns. Among its many organizational units was Institute of Applied Physics (details altered and sanitized for confidentiality), headed by an internationally accomplished Polish professor who believed that scientists should spend most of their time and effort on science, and not on reporting. He made no secret of his views when he was appointed Director of the Institute, which must have come as a shock to many a seasoned bureaucrat in the university Head Office. These people were firm supporters and eager practitioners of the Parkinson’s observation that Officials make work for each other. Being good officials, they felt it was their duty to ensure that the professor and his fellow physicists received their fair share of useless and time-consuming paperwork to be done. Once filled, the lengthy report forms would be sent back to Head Office, like some kind of symbolic tribute paid by a vassal to his lord.
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Cultural issues are known to have thwarted seemingly excellent strategies in all kinds of industries around the world. Therefore, more and more executives tend to understand that a successful implementation of a company’s strategy requires that it is aligned with the firm’s corporate culture, in addition to a number of otherwise crucial tangible prerequisites. In other words, if the prevailing culture is a stumbling block for the implementation of the strategy, then at least one of them needs to change for the incompatibility to be eliminated.
Assuming that the strategy must remain intact, the question is: what can a leader do to cause a lasting change in a company’s culture? (To avoid semantic confusion, lets’ use Kotter’s definition whereby “Culture consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place”). This task can be tackled in a variety of ways. Easier said than done, that’s for sure, as illustrated by countless failure stories. For this reason, and because it is best to learn from the mistakes of others, it is worth starting by going over some of the worst and most rampant errors (the dont’s), such as those the following scenario abounds in. Continue reading