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The Employee Handbook for
Shaping Corporate Culture
The Mission Critical Approach to Culture Integration and Culture Change
Price Pritchett, Ph.D.

Something’s cooking.

Could be that new technology calls for basic changes in how the business runs. Might be your existing culture has problems—like troublesome ingrained traits that must be changed to protect the organization’s future. Or maybe it’s a merger, which means some serious cultural issues will need to be resolved.

Whichever, it’s gonna get sticky. Culture’s a tough cookie to deal with.

This handbook tells you what to expect, why things happen, and how best to meet the challenge of culture change. Nobody’s ever spelled out these ten ground rules before. They may surprise you . . . and they may not be what you want to hear. But you can bank on it—they’re your best bet for dealing with the situation.

Read the handbook carefully. When you’re going through something like this, it pays to do your homework.

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FOREWORD— So what is this thing called corporate culture?

Well, it’s broad and deep. Very complex. It covers almost everything regarding how the organization lives, works, and thinks about the world in general.

Some aspects of culture are in plain view—such as how people dress, their daily routines, the way the company treats customers and suppliers and the employees themselves. Then there’s the invisible stuff. Like beliefs and values, or assumptions about the best way to run a business.

Naturally, culture carries huge influence.

Where does it come from?

If we think of culture as sort of the corporate personality, what are the major forces that shape its development?

Well, the very nature of the business you’re in is a key part of the shaping process. Want to see different corporate cultures? Look across the spectrum of industries and professions. Compare heavy manufacturing to healthcare . . . retail to investment banking . . . insurance to high tech . . . fast food chains to pharmaceutical companies. They’re culturally different because they all conduct business so differently.

Geography also influences corporate culture. Consider how a business is affected by being in Boston versus Billings, Montana . . . England versus Ethiopia . . . Alaska versus Ecuador. From climate, to population density, to local economy, to mix of nationalities, geography accounts for big cultural differences.

Want more factors to consider? Usually the company founders leave their stamp on culture, and the current leaders can as well. Culture also is shaped by circumstances and events. For example, economic ups and downs, the age of a company, its successes and failures, and its very ambitions.

And how do we fit into the picture?

Finally, the corporate culture is shaped by us. Right now. By our personal sense of priorities. Our daily behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and intentions.

And we’re the most logical place for culture change to start.

The organization’s history is what it is. We’re in this particular business, in this particular geographic location. Those are the givens. They will continue to influence the personality—the culture—of the business going forward.

But we are free to move the culture in new directions. And we’re the ones responsible for making sure it’s shaped appropriately for success in this changing world.

Why bother?

Because if we don’t do a good job of managing our culture, the culture will do a poor job of managing us.

“Culture is the mother; institutions are the children.”

– Daniel Etounga-Manguelle, founder/president of the Société Africaine d’Étude, d’Exploitation et de Gestion (SADEG)


In his compelling book, The 80/20 Principle, Richard Koch states,

“If everything is important, then nothing is important . . . some things need to be emphasized or it all ends up as noise.”

This proves to be the case with corporate culture. A few traits are terribly important, but most of them matter hardly at all.

The key is to isolate the“vital few” from the“trivial many.”

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Chapter 1—
Focus on the mission critical aspects of culture.

Even when there’s a strong need to change the culture, usually only a few key shifts need to occur. Everything else about the culture can pretty much be left alone for nature to take its course.

Here’s the tricky part. Start poking around at culture, and people get fussy about a lot of trivial stuff. Practically everybody has a pet issue or two—that is, their own cultural priorities or sensitivities. These may be aspects of the culture that they personally want somebody to “fix.” Or traits that they feel shouldn’t be tampered with at all. Obviously, you can’t keep everyone happy when it comes to culture change.

So here’s the deal. Don’t get scattered trying to address all the cultural preference items people make noise about. And don’t tiptoe around the delicate culture issues if they’re crucial and need to be hit head-on. Focus sharply on what’s mission critical, and let the chips fall where they may.

Ordinarily, only about 5 percent of the cultural issues truly qualify as mission critical. What does that mean? This small handful of traits accounts for about 95 percent of culture’s influence on operating performance. These are the “vital few.” The cultural matters that remain are more or less noise, the “trivial many.” And it’s a mistake for the organization to get distracted by these lightweight issues. Why? Because this remaining 95 percent that’s basically noise will soak up people’s attention, yet account for only 5 percent of culture’s overall impact on business results.

Let’s go over it again and get perfectly clear on this.

Look across any organization, and you’ll see all kinds of cultural hot buttons. The challenge is to keep the change effort focused on the 5 percent of culture that’s mission critical. The company can’t afford to get distracted by the multitude of cultural issues that don’t drive the business.

“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


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