Dear Bob, you have a long career in the field of intercultural management and organisational culture, can you give us an overview?
Bob: Sure. When I entered university I wanted to study a combination of economy and sociology. I thought that would serve me well when helping (in my infinitely small way) to alleviate poverty in third world countries. Only later it transgressed that this combination was only available in the field of business administration and not in the field of macroeconomics and sociology. Thus, I became a fully-fledged economist while taking an additional minor in the field of cultural anthropology and sociology what in those times was unheard of. I choose this additional minor as I was interested in acculturation processes in the third world.
After having worked abroad for an UN-organization I became managing director of a fund-raising organisation to help poor people to better their life. Soon I found out that in those days, we are talking about the seventies of last century, that there was not so much a lack of money, but a lack of absorption capacity. Thus, I became interested in management and management consultancy.
What made you decide to sit down and start writing about Organisational Culture?
Bob: The book “In Search of Excellence” appeared on the market in 1982 written by Peters and Waterman. I was not all that impressed about what they wrote despite its enormous commercial success. I then went to Geert Hofstede and asked him to conduct also research in the field of organisational culture. That happened and the deal we made was that if something useful would come out of the research I was allowed to exploit it commercially. And that is what happened. A new model was then identified, which we call the Multi Focus Model. I started working in this field in the late eighties and collected an enormous amount of information and insights. These insights often go against mainstream thought about culture and change management. So, it thought it was time to write a serious book about it.
What difference does it make to know and analyse your Organisational Culture?
Bob: For all kind of reasons work life has become more complex. Organisational culture can be used as a very effective additional tool of management. A special aspect of this tool is that its applicability is not dependent on new insights regarding the best management approach to be used. Because it is so hard to be an excellent leader or manager, you will all the time see new gurus popping up. Yet, there is no simple solution how promising each new management approach may look. That is not to say that one should reject new insights and approaches developed by gurus and those who remain more in the shadow. Yet, until now these new insights and approaches could be easily translated in terms of the Multi Focus Model.
To answer your question more precisely: When knowing your actual culture well you then will know whether it will be easy or very difficult to realize your vision, mission and objectives. If it tells you that it will be very difficult, if not impossible you better change your actual culture in such a way that the new culture will be fully aligned with your strategy.
Can Organisational Culture be changed?
Bob: Absolutely, but only if top management is fully committed to make change really happen. Until now, we have seen too often that a CEO pays lip service to an ideology instead of being willing to also change one’s own attitudes and behaviour. Interestingly, top management is often prone to point at those who are dependent on them..
Who should initiate a scan?
Bob: Ideally top management, starting with measuring the subculture of top management itself. If this team is too small, implying that one would not be able to measure culture, then top management together with the next hierarchical level.
As a try-out, however, HR can initiate it or the manager of a business unit.
How do you see the future of Organisational Culture?
Bob: As long as people become more autonomous due to an increase of wealth and due to higher educational levels, organisational culture will become more important as
an additional tool of management. E.g. a functional organisational culture can compensate for a loss of loyalty, the latter being a reflection of an increase in individualism and a decrease of respect vis-à-vis authorities.
The example of a team exercise involving members from various countries and a time sensitive and life threatening situation.
Make sure you know the culture well but also the character of each of your team member to be able to effectively manage them.