Aligning Culture With Goals

August 11, 2006
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HOLLAND — Few would argue that matching a worker’s skills and attitude to the tasks required is a step toward success. But what of the company itself?

It’s fairly easy to guess the outcome when a highly structured, delivery-centered individual takes on a role that calls for risk-taking and innovation. The same can be said of companies.

And just like the individual, companies often perceive themselves differently from what they actually are. According to University of Michigan researchers Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn, companies are wrong 80 percent of the time. That was the lesson learned recently by executives at Holland furniture-maker Haworth Inc. — knowledge the company hopes will help its customers achieve their own goals.

“Culture is one of those very overused and misunderstood terms,” said Rick Perkins, North American lead for the Haworth Ideation Lab. “One of the most powerful things about this is it creates a language for people to communicate with each other.”

When it was a new company, Haworth fit into the “clan” organizational culture, as defined by the U-M model. Here, companies are open and friendly; they are internally focused and driven by group cohesion. At some point over the years, unbeknownst to company leaders, Haworth became a “hierarchy” organizational culture. With roots in the military, this culture stresses rules and tight governance; delivery, security and efficiency are prized above all else.

Both culture types are internally focused, but reward completely opposite types of behavior. Neither model fit the company’s current goals. What Haworth wanted to be was a “market” culture — an aggressive, results-driven organization defined by competitive pricing and market share.

The Cameron-Quinn model was originally designed to predict the success of a merger or acquisition. Built on interviews with 10,000 companies over 25 years, the model forecasts success and failure with over 90 percent accuracy, reasoning that if organizational cultures cannot integrate, the merger will fail.

In their book, “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture,” the researchers noted that the top performers of the past 20 years had all successfully matched culture to objectives. In fiercely competitive industries, Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, and Circuit City reaped respective returns on investment of 21,000 percent, 19,000 percent, 18,000 percent and 16,000 percent.

“Those are not the kind of numbers you talk about in business,” Perkins said. “With these successful companies it comes down to [that] they created this culture, and when they needed to change they were able to.”

Haworth believes it can influence a cultural change in an organization with a calculated application of its workspace solutions. It is currently attempting to do so through the renovation of its headquarters, and has launched the Ideation Lab, a design center powered by the six-question Cameron-Quinn survey and the Canvas computer animation software created in partnership with Configura Sverige.

Configura’s CET Designer, the platform on which Canvas is built, is the leading space-planning tool in the European market.

“We’re looking at what pieces within the marketplace struggle,” Perkins said. “How do you metabolize that into real space?”

The Ideation Lab produces customized office designs using Haworth products, providing a mix of private and public spaces orientated to fit the chosen culture. By placing workers in a position where they are more likely to collaborate, for instance, a company will be more likely to have a clan culture.

“Culture is one of the critical things to design in spaces to be effective,” Perkins said. “We’re trying to embed that research methodology into architects and designers.”

Haworth is working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee architectural school on an Ideation Lab project.

The company is confident it will be able to measure the success of its efforts as employees settle into the new environment using employee satisfaction as a metric. Perkins cited a study that showed 28 percent of an individual’s job satisfaction was based on workspace.

“Physical places have an enormous impact on our perception of our job.” 

Organizational Culture Types

Clan Culture

An open and friendly place to work, like an extended family. Leaders are considered mentors or parental figures. Group loyalty and sense of tradition are strong. Emphasis on the long-term benefits of human resources development and great importance given to group cohesion.

Hierarchy Culture

A highly structured and formal place to work. Rules and procedures govern behavior. Leaders strive to be good coordinators and organizers who are efficiency-minded. Maintaining a smooth-running organization is most critical. Stability, performance and efficient operations are the long-term goals. Management wants security and predictability.

Adhocracy Culture

A dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative place to work. Innovation and risk-taking are embraced by employees and leaders. Commitment to experimentation and thinking differently are what unify the organization. Long-term emphasis on growth and acquiring new resources. Success means gaining unique and new products or services. Being an industry leader is important.

Market Culture

A results-driven organization focused on job completion. People are competitive and goal-oriented. Leaders are demanding, hard-driving and productive. Emphasis on winning unifies the organization. Reputation and success are common concerns. Long-term focus is on competitive action and achievement of measurable goals and targets.    

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