The difference between culture and process in an organisation

I have twice been through the process of local government reorganisation.  Once when four district councils were consumed by a county council and once where a large regional council was split into four smaller unitary councils.  One of these reorganisations was completed with few difficulties (issues did occur but they were properly dealt with).  The other was a disaster zone of competing egos and managerial empire building.

So what was the difference between these two events.  On e major factor was how the reorganisation treated organisational culture.  The reorganisation which was completed relatively smoothly recognised that there were significant cultural differences between the merged councils.  It worked to create a new culture which was comfortable to all stakeholders.  In the less successful reorganisation, managers tried to force a new culture into existence without taking into account the differences between stakeholder groups.

In the less successful reorganisation, management saw organisational culture as their property, not belonging to everyone in the organisation and thus there was significant reluctance to accept managements plans.  They also confused culture with process.

So what is the difference between culture and process and why is organisational culture important to business planning and marketing.

Kluckhorn (Yes, I know!) defined culture as:

Patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted through symbols, consisting of the distinctive achievements of human groups, including the embodiment of artefacts; the essential core culture consists of traditional (historically derived and selected) ideas and their especially attached values.

Yup, that’s a pretty long way of saying “the way we do things round here.

Importantly culture is not and cannot be imposed by management.  This is an important consideration for marketing and business strategy.

When attending to organisational culture, it is important to recognise that:

  1.  the culture of an organisation is like an iceberg; most of it lurks beneath the surface invisible to management.  That invisible part sits waiting to cause a collision.  As everyone in an organisation is part of its culture, it is almost impossible to get a complete picture of it and it can be difficult to describe.
  2. Culture is self-protecting and it will resist attempts to change it.  For example it takes around three months for a new employee to be ‘encultured’ – to become part of and to display the behaviours associated with the culture.  Similarly, it takes around three months for new managers to be listened to.
  3. The culture of an organisation is not always what stakeholders say it is.  There is often a significant gaps between how managers describe an organisations culture and how the staff view that culture. Ford UK in the 1970s is a prime example where different view of organisational culture caused significant industrial strife.
  4. Culture is best described as ‘the way we do things round here’.  It is an expression of the attitudes and behaviours of staff, not management.
  5. Culture is desperately important because it affects every aspect of how customers engage with an organisation and how service is delivered.  Your organisational culture cannot endanger trust with your target customer groups.  If staff dealing with customers do not feel trusted with the culture, it can severely harm that relationship.  Staff feelings and internal relationships between organisational stakeholders always get through to the customer.
  6. You need to behave internally how you expect staff to behave externally.  For example, if you are offering a low-cost solution to customers, your management and staff cannot behave like it is a high margin business where money grows on trees.  I have referred to Carillion several times in this blog.  The attitude of that company’s board in relation to their remuneration and bonuses, whilst they forced contractors to wait months for payment, is one of the major failings of Carillion’s collapse.

So what should culture actually be?  What culture is right for an organisation?

An organisational culture should:

  1.  fit with what the customer wants.
  2. There should be a correlation between what management want and the way in which they behave.
  3. The culture should fit with what staff want and must correlate with what they believe is ‘the way things are done around here’.

Culture can be far worse than a ‘negative influence’ when it is no influence at all.  If management ignore culture, it ends up with small disparate cultural groups across an organisation which are inconsistent with each other and which are a disaster for the customer.

At best, the wrong culture will stop an organisation being excellent; at worst, it will stop the organisation.

If management cannot replace a culture, they can at least influence it.  The tool management can use is process.  Culture belongs to staff, process belongs to management.

Process is the organise part of organisation.  However, too many organisations view process through the prism of efficiency not effectiveness.  Their concern is with doing things right as opposed to doing the right things.

Too often process is built around functionality and this risks the development of an effective, joined-up, organisation.  This can lead to silo mentalities developing across an organisation.

Some organisations develop group strategies to breakdown how each function fits within the organisation’s structure.  However, such group strategies often risk an organisation’s focus being internal and it not providing the outputs customers desire.

Process can be defined as:

A series of activities or steps to achieve a particular end –

A series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result – Cambridge Dictionary

A particular course of action intended to achieve a result or results – Anon.

What this means for most organisations is that there will be a functional structure and customers will be passed from one functionality to another e.g. Promotion to sales to manufacture to fulfilment to after sales service.

Each of these functions may contain several tasks and the process may move back and forth through various functions.

Process is the glue which holds these different functionalities together.  If you are trying to create a ‘joined-up’ organisation, it is important that the staff of each function understands the role and responsibilities of other functions.  The failed local government reorganisation mentioned above, tried to amalgamate members of different functionalities into new groups without the development of a common understanding of each group members role.

Do all your staff understand the role they play in fulfilling the customers desired benefits to the appropriate standard?

Process is also the way in which the strategy and the Customer Value Proposition are reflected in what the people of the organisation do.

Process defines tasks, how those tasks are carried out, why they are carried out, what the task delivers and how tasks contributes to the end delivery of customer benefit.