Lean Corporate Culture Framework

Chris Shayan
8 min readMar 7, 2019

Background

As an engineer and experience architect, I’m madly keen on core values and culture. I strongly believe in this formula:

Employee Engagement = Core Values + Company Culture

There are tons of quotes and inspiring speeches about how valuable a good set of core values and appropriate company culture will be, I am not intending to repeat them or convey the same message, I am assuming you’re already a believer too. My intention is to write a post and introduce concepts that can help you to have a framework in order to strategize, build, measure, roll out and adapt. You might need to have some background on Agile, Scrum, Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Customer Journey despite I won’t talk about these methodologies but I have been using them so some background information can become handy. In some of my past articles, I have tried to share some actionable ideas that you can easily start executing and see the changes such as: How to start Employee Engagement, Return on People, Employee Motivation and Building Scalable Startup which I introduced the engagement drivers as seen in following figure:

What’s this Post About?

In my humble opinion, the problem that I have seen is executives are quite lost in finding their ways on how to define core values or what culture they would like to have in their company. There is a lack of methodology being observed; except those who hire fancy corporates which come and do some surveys and create hundred slides of presentation and leave by leaving several books, booklets, keynotes, slides and emails which all of them are going to be abandoned as soon as their consultants leave.

Besides, there’s a missing know-how about culture and company stages; I believe, we need to change the corporate culture based on company stage and even what company is aspired to achieve. In my humble opinion, culture should not be static, it must be dynamic and we need to know when, why and how to change the culture in order to corporates to achieve their vision.

In this post, I kinda like to introduce an adaptable culture framework, or agile culture or something trendy as Lean Corporate Culture Framework. I am not innovating something new, I am sharing mainly from these two sources: The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture by HBR and How to Create a Successful Organizational Culture: Build Itby Haworth.

What is Culture?

Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.

Culture can also evolve flexibly and autonomously in response to changing opportunities and demands. Whereas strategy is typically determined by the C-suite, culture can fluidly blend the intentions of top leaders with the knowledge and experiences of frontline employees. So, I am respectfully against the idea that culture is top-down. The academic literature on the subject is vast. A culture has four generally accepted attributes:

  1. Culture is a shared among group, it cannot exist in solely within a single person. Hence why I disagree that corporate culture is top-down or depends only on top C-suite executives.
  2. Culture is manifest in collective behaviors, physical environment, group rituals or traditions, tangible symbols and stories. It has intangible perspectives too like mindset, motivations, assumptions and reasonings. Culture is very much pervasive.
  3. Culture last long so it is enduring. Thus culture becomes a self-reinforcing social pattern that grows increasingly resistant to change and outside influences which has good side like attraction-selection-attrition model first introduced by Benjamin Schneider however it also has downside too like companies ignore to change their culture based on organization development stage.
  4. Culture is like a silent language, the ability to sense and respond to culture is universal so culture is implicit.

What is Organizational Culture?

The term “organizational culture,” or “company culture,” is a recent addition to our vocabulary from the 80s. Most simply, organizational culture involves how an organization functions and expresses itself. It’s the personality of an organization and encompasses these basic components:

  1. Values: what a company does, its mission, and how it represents itself
  2. Assumptions: the attitudes, often unconscious, formed through company processes and actions that inform what employees think
  3. Artifacts: what a company represents in the form of products, technologies, publications, processes, dress code, location, and architecture

Cultural change doesn’t happen by accident; it requires a well-planned agile change management process. Cultural change generally arises in three forms as shared in below. All of these forms are useful in different company stages. You cannot rule out one style because of its nature, you need to identify which form matches the best with your company growth stage.

  1. Evolutionary. Allowing change to occur slowly over time with sights set on company-wide transformation;
  2. Focused. Involving measures exacted upon only certain elements or subcultures;
  3. Revolutionary. Forcing an entire organization to change course drastically

Cultures are not static. They are living systems that evolve, sometimes devolve and rarely stay the same. Culture ideally should enable the aspirations, strategy and purpose of an organization. The more adaptive the culture, the more likely the organization is to be able to successfully respond to disruptions and changes. And, over time, to become the disruptor rather than the disrupted.

Eight Distinct Culture Styles

Multiple researches revealed two dimensions that apply regardless of organization type, size, industry, or geography: people interactions and response to change.

  1. People interactions. An organization’s orientation toward people interactions and coordination will fall on a spectrum from highly independent to highly interdependent. Cultures that lean toward the former place greater value on autonomy, individual action, and competition leadership models like holacracy leadership model. Those that lean toward the latter emphasize integration, managing relationships, and coordinating group effort might be the best fit for warehouses. People in such cultures tend to collaborate and to see success through the lens of the group.
  2. Response to change. Whereas some cultures emphasize stability — prioritizing consistency, predictability, and maintenance of the status quo might be perfect for delivery or those organizations that are committed to specific results to customers like Amazon Prime delivery within few hours — others emphasize flexibility, adaptability, and receptiveness to change like Amazon research labs, Google, Netflix or Zappos. Those that favor stability tend to follow rules, use control structures such as seniority-based staffing, reinforce hierarchy, and strive for efficiency. Those that favor flexibility tend to prioritize innovation, openness, diversity, and a longer-term orientation.

It’s important to recognize the differences between each culture profile because organizations always have a dominant culture and may also contain many different subcultures like different departments might have different culture style such as you might be Amazon Prime you might pick Results as your style however your HR department might be adopting Caring style or your engineering might be Enjoyment style. By understanding and accepting various cultures organizations can harness the differences for success.

  1. Caring focuses on relationships and mutual trust. Work environments are warm, collaborative, and welcoming places.
  2. Purpose is exemplified by idealism and altruism (self-sacrifice being part of something bigger). Work environments are tolerant, compassionate places where people try to do good for the long-term future of the world.
  3. Learning is characterized by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity. Work environments are inventive and open-minded places where people spark new ideas and explore alternatives.
  4. Enjoyment is expressed through fun and excitement. Work environments are lighthearted places where people tend to do what makes them happy.
  5. Results is characterized by achievement and winning. Work environments are outcome-oriented and merit-based places where people aspire to achieve top performance.
  6. Authority is defined by strength, decisiveness, and boldness. Work environments are competitive places where people strive to gain personal advantage.
  7. Safety is defined by planning, caution, and preparedness. Work environments are predictable places where people are risk-conscious and think things through carefully.
  8. Order is focused on respect, structure, and shared norms. Work environments are methodical places where people tend to play by the rules and want to fit in.

Styles that are adjacent in the framework, such as safety and order, frequently coexist within organizations and their people. In contrast, styles that are located across from each other, such as safety and learning, are less likely to be found together and require more organizational energy to maintain simultaneously. Each style has advantages and disadvantages, and no style is inherently better than another.

Every culture style has strengths and weaknesses. The table below summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of each style and how frequently it appears as a defining culture characteristic among the companies in our study.

organizations always have a dominant culture and may also contain many different subcultures you might pick Results as your style however your HR department might be adopting Caring style or your engineering might be Enjoyment style

One Company’s Experience

One large company used its search for a new director (or C-Suite) as an opportunity to bridge a problematic gap between the company’s culture and the board’s culture. To accomplish this, the leadership first diagnosed the two cultures along with its aspirations for the new director.

Whereas the company was highly results oriented and focused on order, discipline, and execution, the board was far more learning oriented, exploratory, inquisitive, and focused on enjoyment. A director who was results driven and curious would help bridge the two cultures. Two years after an individual with the desired style was brought in, the board and the management team reported more-effective strategic planning activities and improved company performance.

Tools

There are plenty of tools that can help to identify, measure, build, change, roll out culture, these are some of my curated ones:

  1. Workplace, Communicate, collaborate and connect across desktop and mobile, using familiar features like groups, chat and video calls.
  2. Lattice, Performance management
  3. Workday, A great Human Capital Management (HCM) which empowers and enables you can start having a role inside your HR called: People Analytics that can help you on various things such as culture measurement, retention, recruitment, etc. Something like a focused BI role only for your HR, if you are having over thousands employees
  4. Culture Amp, makes it easy to collect, understand and act on employee feedback.

One Company’s Example

If you are keen to know how to execute such thing, please refer to my other article that explains how to implement all these Lean Corporate Culture Framework in eight steps.

Read the example in here.

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Chris Shayan

Scaling Up, Growth and Digital Transformation guy.