When in 1962 President Kennedy asked a janitor at NASA “What are you doing?” and the janitor famously replied “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon,” it exemplified the 'One-Company Culture' concept - the originator of the strategy had engaged the whole organization through the power of good communication to own and live the strategy.
This celebrated exchange is quoted by Tuck’s Professor Paul Argenti in a recent article in which he points to the importance of developing a one-company culture to ensure the effective execution of a corporate strategy in large organizations.
In large complex organizations – and with globalization they are getting larger and more complex – getting thousands of people to work together ‘as one’ on executing strategy requires senior management to build an aligned and engaged culture focusing on people and communication. Unfortunately, according to Argenti, not only do most employees have no idea what the strategy is for their company, but many senior executives struggle to clearly articulate their company’s strategy.
Strategy development is not the problem. Much executive committee time is devoted to, and millions of dollars are spent with consulting firms on, getting the strategy and the vision for the future right. The problem is that once established, although the CEO may well be able to articulate the strategy, it is too rarely communicated intelligibly to employees and even managers do not really understand the consulting firm’s detailed strategy proposal. Furthermore, as Argenti points out the HR and Corporate Communication functions that are best placed to communicate the strategy through the organization “are not the most highly regarded functions in the majority of corporations.”
Referring to his research with Professor Cees Van Riel of RSM Erasmus University, around developing a one-company culture, Argenti says “We found that the following elements were most important: deep employee engagement, an entrepreneurial spirit, and authentic relationships between managers and employees. That critical connection when employee self-interest and corporate self-interest fuse is the cornerstone of a one-company culture.”
The most successful companies studied by Argenti and Van Riel did the following to align their culture:
Linked individual roles and responsibility to the overall strategy and values, ensuring that employees understood their personal connection to and impact on both.
Trickled messages down, up, and sideways.
Recognized that one-company cultures never have a top down approach to communication. Employees at the best companies felt like they had a legitimate seat at the table in shaping an organization’s strategy and future.
Used technology to build communities organically.
Focused on measurement to track and quantify progress.
Clearly understood the complexity around creating a one-company culture. A truly aligned and engaged culture must be supported by thoughtful and thorough process integration.
Realized that one-company culture requires the full support of a strong leader navigating the company in the desired direction and keeping it on track.
Read Paul Argenti's full article: Developing a One-Company Culture