The Cultural Profile
I think of these three factors — the nature of the Core Group, the prevailing creative imperative, and the conception of honor — as components of a core profile of an organization’s culture.
The core profile and the individual elements of culture are hard to articulate, but most people associated with a company will recognize them when they hear them. I’ve been testing this by asking people to send me core profiles of companies they know well. At Procter & Gamble Company, for instance, the Core Group is composed largely of marketing people who joined the company straight from college; the creative proficiency is dominating shelf space and overseeing markets; and P&G people genuinely see themselves as guardians of purity and cleanliness.
I’m very interested in hearing from people with whom this theory resonates, or those who disagree with it. If it’s right, then it suggests that senior executives have a choice. They can try to design an organization in which everyone is part of the Core Group, although that would require an extraordinary degree of attention. They can settle for the sort of abusive, deceptive Core Group dynamics that exist in many organizations, and that seem to lead to various kinds of folly. Or they can be open and clear about the purpose of the company — the priorities of the Core Group, the creative proficiency on which its success depends, and the ideals it wants to promote.
Senior executives cannot control these three elements of culture, but they can influence them, particularly through the people they hire and the people they promote. If the core cultural qualities are authentic, and people can talk openly about them, then a company may have a far better chance of thriving than if there is a serious gap (as there seems to have been at Enron) between the perceived and believed core qualities and the underlying truth.
A predisposition to arrogant folly will find its way around any regulation. Accounting and other reforms intended to make corporate operations more visible to shareholders are all for the best. But we also need to make business organizations’ core characters more transparent, so that everyone can see where they’re going — and make an informed judgment as to what the consequences might be.
Reprint No. 02203
Mr. Kleiner would like to know your reactions to this column for his forthcoming book, The Core Group. He can be contacted by e-mail or through his Web site.
[email protected] is the “Culture & Change” columnist and a regular contributor of “The Creative Mind” profiles for strategy+business. He teaches at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. His Web site is www.well.com/user/art. Mr. Kleiner is the author of The Age of Heretics (Doubleday, 1996); his next book, Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Business Success, will be published by Doubleday Currency in August 2003.