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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 29 October 2012
I agree with the co-authors of this book -- Daniel Denison, Robert Hooijberg, Nancy Lane, and Colleen Lief -- that there are cultural issues to be taken into full account when preparing and then implementing change initiatives. The fact that these issues are frequently ignored or under-estimated helps to explain why a substantial majority of change initiatives fail or fall far short of original expectations. The difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that such initiatives challenge -- or are at least perceived to be a challenge -- to the status quo. I have yet to encounter an organization whose status quo lacks fierce defenders. This is what James O'Toole has in mind (in one of his books, Leading Change) when suggesting that some of the strongest resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom."

For individuals as well as for organizations, what got them here may well be unable to get them there, wherever "here" and "there" may be. Denison, Hooijberg, Lane, and Lief identify conflicts that create severe tension: "The trade-off between stability and flexibility and the trade-off between internal and external forces. In addition, the tensions between internal consistency and external adaptability, and the 'top down' versus 'bottom-up' tension between mission and involvement exemplify some of the competing demands that organizations face....For each of these dynamic contradictions, it is relatively easy to do one or the other, but much more difficult to do both."

To illustrate how important four defining traits are, the co-authors cite examples and explain how mission grows out of core beliefs and assumptions at IKEA, how Apple uses adaptability to lead the marketplace into the future, how Ritz-Carlton utilizes involvement to create capacity, and how consistency is the foundation for quality at Toyota. They also stress the importance of asking the right question and then answering it:

Mission: "Do we know where we're going?"
Adaptability: Are we listening to the marketplace?"
Involvement: "Are our people aligned and engaged?"
Consistency: "Does our system create leverage?"

Business leaders who fail to ask and then answer the right questions during the decision-making process are vulnerable to the perils that Peter Drucker has in mind when asserting, "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me:

o How Corporate Culture Impacts Business Performance (Pages 6-10)
o What You Keep Is as Important as What You Change (41-42)
o It Takes Time to Implement a New Strategy (51-56)
o The Cycle of Strategy Formulation and Implementation (68-70)
o Tracking the Transformation (74-77)
o Business Teams (97-98)
o Leading with a Vision (115-116)
o Organizational Structures Are Everywhere (127-128)
o Becoming an Internationally Diverse Company (138-140)
o Trading Old Habits for New (154-157)

With rare exception, the best business books are driven by research rather than by hypothesis or theory and that is certainly true of this one. As explained in the Appendix, the Denison Organizational Culture Survey played an essential role in all of the ten mini-case studies provided in the book: Deutsche Tech, Domino's Pizza, GE Healthcare's CSW (Clinical Systems Wuxi), GT Automotive's HVAC Division, IKEA, Polar Bank, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Swiss Re's Americas Division, Toyota, and Vale. Denison, Hooijberg, Lane, and Lief identify a number of lessons business leaders can learn from these and other companies that -- with appropriate modifications -- could be of substantial value to almost all other organizations, whatever their size and nature may be.

However, they also duly acknowledge that no two organizations are exactly the same and note that an organization's circumstances are subject to frequent, sometimes traumatic change. "Different cultures and different industries may each have their own approach [to aligning strategy with culture]. Organizations old or new, large or small, may also have unique strengths that they can draw on. But in the end, to survive for the present and build for the future, leaders need to create a unique culture and mindset of their own, to differentiate themselves from the competition and gain the commitment and dedication of their people." That is true of all organizations and especially of global organizations but the importance of the four defining traits remain constant. All initiatives should be guided and informed by what they require.
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