Anyone who gives culture a thought can understand these concepts. The hard
part is accepting how resilient culture is. Because culture defines a globally accepted
template for action within an organization, by its nature it exists to resist change.
This is the critical point every leader must clearly understand: There is no aspect of
a company that is more difficult to change than the culture. A company that has
never prioritized food safety in the past, and wishes to move in that direction, must
realize that it is embarking on a journey. It will require time, perseverance and committed leadership. There will be resistance, much of it passive and well hidden, and
there will be failure.
But corporate culture can be changed if the leaders go into the process with an
awareness of the scope of the challenge and a plan for overcoming the inevitable
obstacles (for a success story, see “Cultural
Transformation at Sunny Delight,” p. 44).
This does not guarantee success, but a
lack of personal commitment will practically guarantee that the initiative will
These changes will create discomfort
at every level of the company, probably
more in the executive suite than anywhere else. Some members of this group
will accept that a new approach to leadership and management is necessary,
and some will not. It is not unusual for
change leadership to require changes in
“Corporate culture is the sum
Over the years, many models of corporate culture have emerged in the business
press, and managers can become quickly
overwhelmed by the management-speak
jargon that academics so often use. In
most situations, the discussion can be simplified and distilled into two basic camps
of corporate culture: role-based cultures and task-based cultures.
Role-based cultures are most familiar to those of us who have worked in the food
manufacturing space, and they have dominated Western companies for decades. In
role-based cultures, authority, power and resources are driven by title and individual
personality. Hierarchy and bureaucracy frame the structure of the organization.
Decisions are passed down from authority figures to be carried out by the relatively
powerless employees who form the bottom of the pyramid-shaped org chart.
This culture results in a workforce that is largely disengaged from their work. Employees who have little or no discretion in making decisions or offering input to the
decision-making “class” have no motivation to engage when problems emerge.
The pervasive attitude among the frontline workers is “not my problem.” And in
a very real sense, this is true. In an environment where the worker is told what to do,
how to do it and how much time she has to get it done, she has no ownership of the
task. When this person sees a problem developing that is not specifically part of her
job, it is literally not her problem. That problem belongs to the quality assurance
staff—or packaging—or customer service, but not to her.
Task-based cultures, on the other hand, are far more inclusive of everyone within
the organization. This culture type focuses attention on solving problems, accomplishing tasks and developing talents. A team-based approach to work is often used,
and respect is earned based on expertise and professionalism. Power evolves from
the accomplishments of the group rather than the position of the individual. Reporting lines in this culture are often complex and interwoven rather than straight up the
chain of command. Hero leaders and departmental silos are not well tolerated.
So which culture type is most likely to produce lasting results for companies that
are attempting to entrench a commitment to food safety? Consider the reaction that
line workers are likely to have when they discover an issue—is it “not my problem”
or is it “we have a problem?”
of everything that makes up the
leadership, as this is not a group famous
for its commitment to teamwork. Nonetheless, it is crucial that executives consistently model the behaviors they hope
to engender in the larger organization.
A failure here to “walk the talk” will
result in systemic cynicism and apathy,
and will encourage those who resist the
change to soldier on. Author Donella
Meadows, in Thinking in Systems, notes,
“Purposes are decided from behavior,
not from rhetoric or stated goals.”
The clear message in both words and
actions must be, “Resistance is futile.”
The First Step to Change
The first step to creating lasting change to your corporate culture? Senior managers must accept that they will likely not face a more difficult challenge in their
professional career. With this backdrop, the members of the executive team must be
completely committed to cultural change. In fact, the success of the desired culture
change can be predicted by the personal commitment of the CEO and senior team.
Where Are You Now?
With executive commitment in
hand, the next step is “Where are we
now, and where do we want to go?”
There is only one effective way to
create a complete picture of the current
state of the organization, and that is by
meeting with stakeholders. Of course
this includes employees and managers
from every department and at every
level, but to really ensure that your real-
ity is captured, be certain to include
external viewpoints as well—feedback
from suppliers and clients, even your
own board members, will often provide
a perspective that differs from the views
of those who are too close to the prob-
This data collection will take many
forms, like town hall meetings, personal