Harvard Business Review (HBR) never ceases to amaze me. Very often I feel that there is some sort of a time machine between the publications ‘latest’ and where the world, certainly mine and the one of my clients, is going.
A masterpiece of this time machine which makes me feel there is something wrong with my brain (effect not lasting more than the making of an espresso) is entitled ‘Culture Is Not the Culprit’ by Jay W Lorsch and Emily McTague.
To explain that culture is not the culprit, the authors give us the 4 vignettes (four) of Doug Baker at Ecolab, Richard Anderson of Delta, Alan Mulally ex CEO of Ford, and Dan Vasella ex CEO of Novartis. The big title of the whole April issue is also a grandiose ‘You can’t fix culture’, in big red letters, just in case you missed the message.
Well, actually, yes we can. And your article proves it. All cases demonstrate how they fixed it. You may not want to call it culture, but, in your words, Baker produced a ‘shift from father-knows-best management to a collaborative and independent workforce’; Anderson a ‘shift from adversarial management-employee relationship to mutual loyalty and trust’; Mulally a ‘shift from defensive and disparate to cooperative and connected business units’ and Vasella a ‘shift from narrowly focused and bureaucratic to a customer-centric and performance-minded organization.
The authors point is (I think, I don’t know anymore, as it frequently is with HBR articles) that they did not start with ‘culture’, that ‘culture’ was an outcome of the business transformation they did. Well, last time I checked, this is what all of us in the cultural (sorry) transformation business do, a fact that may be alien to the Boston campus but is pretty normal elsewhere.
Had this article come from the Highville-sur-mer School of Business, it would have been dismissed as a bad case of old journalism.
As an aside, the authors glorify the personal leadership of the four and paint a picture of almost transcendental enlightenment of them, as if they managed the transformation solo.
Is this the best a prestigious Business School can do? If so, give me a good journalist next time.
PS. I realise I have just screwed up my chances of becoming their Dean. Dammit!