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When Good Culture Becomes Bad

By May 22, 2020No Comments

In 1997’s Boston Macworld, Steve Jobs was BOOed by Mac enthusiasts. 

He had just come back to save the company he loved and told the audience about the adoption of IE as the default browser. The crowd hissed and booed and Steve Jobs broke into an impromptu sermon: “If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win Microsoft has to lose. OK? We have to embrace a notion that for Apple to win Apple has to do a really good job, and if others are going to help us, that’s great, cause we need all the help we can get. And if we screw up and we don’t do a good job, it’s not somebody else’s fault. It’s our fault. So, I think that’s a very important perspective.”

Do not doubt that Jobs had created the culture which led to his booing by building the mythology of apple being better than the rest during his time leading Mac. He needed to shift the companies mindset away from doing it alone to partnering and encompassing others to be successful.

“Culture in many ways define a company’s response to reality because it becomes the unspoken filter through which all information is processed.”

Microsoft under Balmer failed to shift from their bold strategy of “a computer on every desktop” when smartphones came about. Doubling down on a windows centric strategy was Balmer’s downfall and it happened because the company could not accept the change in reality.

That’s the trap of culture, you can’t see your own blindspots because your mental model doesn’t allow them in. We often espouse “culture east strategy for breakfast” but in truth, culture is often an outcome of success. It becomes ingrained because it delivers/delivered results. It is the companies greatest asset until, one day, it’s the biggest liability. The problem is the stronger the culture the less likely you are to see that switch coming.

This becomes ingrained in behavior; the pride that people have in doing a task really well stops them from seeing when the world has changed. And that by doing that task, a digital environment is destroying value for their customer and not creating it (like it used to). This transition happens so quickly, that their key defense is to create elaborate processes to recreate a manual set of tasks that should be eradicated. “What will our people do” trumps “how do we do a great job faster for our customers”.

This is where the role of a leader is so critical; to be brave enough to change the culture by, like Steve Jobs, changing underlying beliefs that everyone has about themselves and fundamentally, what they do to create value.

By Nevo Hadas – Nevo is the founding partner of DYDX and has led the development of “The Culture Canvas”—an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours—as well as the latest ebook “ – Remote Team Management”, which is available for free download, and the 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment tool designed to help companies measure the effectiveness of their remote teams.