Tina Hedlund
Senior Consultant, Comtech Services, Inc.

Company culture is an important indicator of a company’s ability to change and to implement innovation. In the last monthly phone conference for the Innovator’s Forum, participants discussed two books and their implications for their planned innovation, The Character of Organizations by William Bridges and Corporate Cultures by Deal and Kennedy.

Participants had completed Bridges’ organizational personality questionnaire for their company and their department. The questionnaire is loosely based on the Meyers-Briggs personality types for individuals. You can find the questionnaire in Bridges’ book.

Two of the personality indicators relate fairly strongly to the ability to change and to accept innovation. These are S or N, which relate to working style and J or P, which describe how companies deal with the outside world. Participants believed that S and J organizations might have a more difficult time dealing with innovation and change.

Highly structured S type organizations deal in facts and figures and are well organized. Bridges identifies these organizations with the motto: “God is in the details.” Their attention to detail and focus on performing tasks in a methodical way, although useful in some aspects of business, make change difficult. Employees in S type organizations avoid change unless they know exactly how the change will affect them.

Outcome-focused J type organizations usually make decisions and stick to them. It may be difficult in a J type organization to re-visit or question a decision made earlier. Employees in J type organizations may ask: “Why waste our time on an issue that has already been resolved?”

Interestingly, Forum participants found that departmental personality types may differ greatly from the company personality type. An individual department is influenced by the personality of its leader and team members. They may have come originally from an acquired company with a different corporate personality itself. They may be part of a global organization whose personality is influenced by the primary country culture. Typically, the differences may be minor and most representative of the primary functional responsibility of the information-development organization.

In addition to looking at corporate culture from a personality-centered perspective, Forum participants also considered the strength of their cultures. In Corporate Cultures, Deal and Kennedy explain how a strong culture may actually impede the process of change. In a strong culture, employees are indoctrinated into the corporate culture from their first day at work. They learn to respect the values of the culture, which may cause an innovation to fail miserably.

It’s clear from the Innovator’s Forum participants that they will have to implement changes in a way that will be accepted within their departments and organizations. If the leader’s idea or the ideas of the team members involved run counter to the dominant departmental or corporate culture, they may need to first modify the innovation so that it more closely aligns to the company culture to be acceptable. Understanding a departmental and corporate culture is the first step in achieving a change and innovation goal.