What kind of culture does your firm have? Does it work for, or against, the company’s goals?
A firm’s culture isn’t always immediately apparent, and sometimes there is a disconnect between company goals and the culture in place. What is ‘culture’ as it refers to business anyway? It’s the set of shared values, attitudes, goals and procedures that color firm-client and intra-firm interactions. This culture is a powerful force for shaping perception and experience of all firm participants, whether as clients or team members. It’s about the adjectives we use when thinking about Big Blue vs. Apple, or for that matter, i-Universe vs. Android. Mixed messages in a firm culture can result in inconsistent performance and employees who aren’t quite sure what they are expected to do in a given situation. Creating a clear culture that enhances performance and brand differentiation is important to a company’s long-term success. What does your firm culture say about your company? The Competing Values Framework suggests four separate categories into which most company cultures fall. Most are a hybrid, with one dominant model and some aspects of at least one more of the four basic styles evident in the firm. Bruna Martinuzzi’s article in Open Forum looks at the four types:
- Hierarchy cultures are based on strong, clear roles with rigid lines of demarcation. Standardization is the theme of these cultures, with employees at all levels fully aware of where their roles begin and end. Creativity is not valued; adherence to rules is. Advantages inherent to a hierarchical culture include predictability and consistency. The customer experience varies little, and the goal is for it to not vary at all. A classic example would be a fast food business, where process and product are the same every time, every place. Employees know what to do over and over, but they aren’t free (or trained) to handle unexpected situations. In many cases, CPA firms fall into this culture style.
- Adhocracy or creative cultures are all about innovation. They are found in companies that offer unique new products or services. Consulting and technology firms are often adhocracies. While there are policies and shared goals, experimentation and creativity are critical elements of success in these types of companies. The outcome of these efforts may be spectacular successes or dismal failures, but that’s a part of the landscape and cannot be entirely avoided. Individuals in these organizations are not only free to think on their feet and go out on a limb – they are required to in order to meet the needs of the situation.
- Market cultures are focused on meeting client needs in a competitive environment. Speed is of the essence, as employees work to keep clients supplied with the services and products they want before another firm does it for them. To thrive as a market-culture firm, all team members must have a deep and comprehensive understanding of what it is clients need, as well as company support and reward systems for efforts in meeting these needs.
- Clan cultures are all about the group. Collaboration is key, as teamwork and group consensus are the valued conditions. Loyalty and commitment are rewarded, and innovation occurs through group efforts. These tightly-knit cultures can be extremely productive, or they can get bogged down in circular input, with no one willing to be the loudmouth who points out the Emperor’s lack of garb. With effective communication in place, however, collaborative cultures can utilize the best thought from the entire group to ensure success for the company. Improving collaboration is a success strategy that benefits firms of all culture types.
In assessing your own firm’s culture, think about the company goals. Which styles offer the most support for them? Which are antithetical to what you’re trying to do? Are your culture and your goals a good match? In a subsequent post we’ll examine how to create a culture shift to create the best fit between the two.