No medium to large size company has a single culture. No medium to large size French, or British or American company has a single French, or British or American culture. There are sub-cultures all over the place. Chances are you have a manufacturing culture, an R&D culture and, say, a San Francisco operating unit culture. Chances are you live in a Switzerland type organization not in a North Korean type one. Why so many leaders want a North Korean organization? It’s handy for them.
You have two choices: recognise this diversity and find a way to glue the organization under some magic that adds value to the whole, or desperately try to ‘align’ and pretend that you have one uniform company, or that you can in fact dictate and have ‘one company’.
For years, the latter quest has been in place under an ill-formed idea of (global) leadership. ‘Across the board alignment’ has been promoted not as an organizational need but as leaders-at-the-top need. When I hear about sudden One Company Programmes, I hear more about the vulnerability and weakness of its leadership than a sort of collective cry for unsolicited uniformity.
If you want ‘one company’, the best thing you can do is not to say it, and work towards finding the glue and the reasons why people would want to have ‘that one’. The more you publicise ‘the one company’, the more you are saying you don’t have one. Not a good frame to start. Most ‘one company programmes’ I know of, are created for and by leaders who have not managed to create a sense of belonging. They now want belonging by dictation. Good luck.
Historically, my team and myself have been involved in such programmes, but the best results have always correlated with the speed we managed to stop talking about it and did our best to create a behavioural fabric which everybody could click with.
One of our first projects, a few centuries ago, started with the top leader in a large R&D bombarding everybody with a clever ‘R&D is one word’. It meant, you research guys better align with you development guys. Or else. And the more he said, the more it seemed that the distance was getting longer. On this particular case, for a number or reasons, we managed to create a structure that we called ‘New Products Incubator’. Behind the semantic twist it was the reality of new ways of working under a shared set of behaviours, new concept of risk, nee sense of urgency, new rules of the game and new sense of collective, bottom up identity and belonging. People literally queued to be part of it. Literally. And the leader stopped the mantra. ‘And he saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day’. (Unfortunately on the Seventh Creation Day the company was bought by a super-tanker, one which by the skillful hand of a Big Consulting Company, seemed to have one single goal: to destroy all that worked well. But this is a story for another day.)
As in all examples of this miniseries of ‘mistaken identity’, when inputs and outputs get confused, this last one, number 5, follows the same pattern. If you want ‘one company’, treat that as an outcome of what you do, not as communication input, as something to be injected, a magic coin for the slot machine that will deliver the goods in the receptacle at the bottom. Or, in simple terms, if you want One Company, don’t ask for one, make it.
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