Culture – as close as you can get to a company’s soul, guard it well
Having focused on the meaning and creation of learning organizations for a period in my life I can’t help coming back from time to time to thinking about organizations as living organisms.
The metaphor actually makes quite a bit of sense…like an organism (human for example) each organization is made up of different composing parts with distinct functions all working together to reach specific common goals. If the function of one organ is impaired it can inevitably affect other functions and the organism as a whole.
Just like in humans bad behaviors can lead to long term risks that might be hard to avoid. I often like to make the analogy that to have a misaligned IP department is like smoking or a bad diet, it introduces a small amount of risk in the system each day (operating risk) that over time can be more harmful than low probability high impact accidents (like for example a litigation).
Just like humans, organizations interact heavily with their environment both in a reactive/adaptive way as well as an active way (changing/shaping their surrounding environments). In many respects thinking about the creative process, reactions to change and approaches to implement change, decision making reasoning, and the behavior of an individual allows for parallels and lessons to be drawn at the corporate level…after all we are the ones taking the decisions or having to adapt to them.
One aspect of the parallel expressed in this metaphor that is somewhat elusive however is the predictive nature and motivation behind the organization’s behavior. The soul and behavior drivers/“psychology” of the organization is a complex matter that perhaps most accurately can be defined through the intersection of corporate culture (the company’s soul), individual perceptions and individual drivers.
The culture of an organization is often shaped heavily in the beginning years of its inception. The organization’s brand and historic heritage then give it its “raison d’être” and sustain a healthy and vibrant culture. This can be easily seen when we look at small and medium size companies and in some cases even giants like Google, Apple, Ikea etc. Companies like these have such strong cultures that they form the overriding moral code according to which decisions are made and actions are motivated (from hiring, product development and so on).
For other historic giants like GM, GE (other) things become a bit more complex as communication and cooperation between the business sections becomes increasingly challenging and culture is taken over by strict formalized processes and targets. This often leaves little room for creativity and inspiration which can prove to be like a slow releasing poison for the whole organism. At this stage most often the company’s personality and brand promise becomes increasingly confusing and unreliable for the market which leads in turn to losses of market share and the capacity to attract valuable employees thereby reinforcing the negative loop. These damages although gradual are often long lasting and, in some cases deadly.
You may ask, ok but what does this have to do with IP strategy? We have often talked in this blog about the necessity of a company to drive and adapt fast to change, to innovate at a greater pace than competitors and so on. A lot of these aspects abovementioned have to do with making sure the right people are at the right moment in the right place. With international competition for qualified human capital fierce making sure that you have the right people on board is a challenge to say the least. In today’s environment corporate culture plays a big role in attracting, engaging,motivating and retaining the right employees for you (see here the effects that an unclear corporate culture has had over the attraction of valuable employees at Yahoo for example). We have also talked about the necessity of IP to have a back and forth communication with sales and marketing – this helps keep the company grounded and focused on its brand promise and outside communications. As technology surrounds every aspect of our life and consumers become more knowledgeable different philosophies and expectations will be born. Setting your brand promise and staying true to it with consistent norms/cultures could be the difference between success or failure in your chosen market.
Corporations that have realized the above often actively search for ways to reinvent their identity and return to a “small company mentality”. Analyzing and treating a company whose culture has become eroded or damaged remains a mammoth but not impossible task and an intriguing project. It has to do with the basic fabric of the corporate identity from the cellular level up. It is good to realize that quick fixes cannot be found here, and that change has to be driven by upper managment and embraced throughout the company. Spotting changes in individual and organizational behavior from time and calling them out, and not being afraid to make difficult decisions is always the better option for safeguarding your organization’s most unique and priceless asset, its culture.
Image credit: ynse