Appearing in AIM magazine, February 2016
Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success
By Carolyn Taylor
Random, $50, 398 pages, ISBN 9781847941572
When the first edition of this book appeared in 2005 there was not a great deal of knowledge about corporate culture. Since then, the subject – especially the role of culture in corporate transformation and innovation – has moved to centre stage, although Taylor believes that the interest has not always been matched by a clear understanding of how to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Taylor’s consulting company specialises in the area, so she is well-placed to understand the problems faced by leaders who want to change their organisational culture. One of the advantages of the updated version is that she has been able to inject a good amount of real-world experience, and she makes clear that changing a corporate culture is a slow, often painful process, and there are always bumps along the way.
She comes up with six cultural archetypes: Achievement, Customer-Centric, One-Team, Innovative, People-First and Greater-Good. It is for the leader to establish where the company has to go, compared with its existing culture, and which archetype suits the company and industry circumstances. Taylor provides guidance and advice, and suggests a range of metrics to measure progress.
A common theme, however, is the necessity for the CEO to lead by example. She describes self-awareness as “the ticket to the game”, pointing to the value of setting aside time for reflection and the building of relationships. There should be a clear alignment of personal and corporate values, and a readiness to accept accountability.
Taylor offers tools for communicating those values across the organisation, noting the crucial role that symbols can play. Good communication is rooted in authenticity, and if there are tough decisions to be made then they have to be explained and implemented with honesty.
A company that appears to be successful can be the hardest to change. This comes out in a new study that Taylor examines, Infoglobo. Originally a newspaper-based company in Brazil, it was so successful (in 2007) that it faced few competitors, and had fallen into a pattern of arrogance. But the threats of digitisation and social media were beginning to emerge, and a new CEO was appointed to transform the organisation. Taylor, who consulted on the project, explains how the culture change plan was developed and executed in a step-by-step way, moving the company towards a multi-platform media conglomerate.
In some ways, the issue of corporate change has become easier. In the past decade a range of metrics to evaluate internal performance has developed, making it easier to identify problems. On the other hand, the new generation of talented people are demanding good working environments, so the war for talent can be lost on the cultural field. This is not an area that can be ignored.
Taylor explains her points with clarity and authority, with an eye on practicality. If you have read the first edition, then this expanded, revised version is a good way to take the lessons further. If not, it is a good place to start.
Connect: How Companies Succeed by Engaging Radically with Society
By John Browne
Random, $35, 302 pages, ISBN 9780753556931
Browne had stepped down from the role of CEO of BP before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster but the event still affected him deeply, making him think about the entrenched antipathy of large chunks of society to big business. He looks at the broad historical context, from the East India Company to private enterprise in imperial China, with many stops along the way. In the modern world, he is wary of CSR, insofar as it is often separate from core business activities. Even more, CSR and corporate philanthropy can sometimes look like attempts to mislead and bribe opponents, doing more harm than good.
He utilises a range of data from McKinsey to demonstrate the benefits that can flow from genuine engagement with society. From there he maps the requirements for connection, starting with a proper understanding of stakeholders. The positive news is that there is a great stock of management expertise in corporates, and it can be applied to societal connection. This demands a substantial change of mindset, including a willingness to question the status quo.
Browne speaks from experience, and he can draw on the views of top-level people. The result is a book that is fascinating, but also challenging.