Hacking Corporate Culture: Stories, Heroes, and Rituals in Startups and Companies (Part 1)

Original author: Steve Blank
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This year I spent working with corporations and government agencies that apply and adapt the methodological foundations of streamlining production.

One of the most interesting difficulties with introducing innovations, which I noticed, is based on the company's culture. While startups have the ability to build values ​​and culture from scratch, existing companies that want to start (restart) corporate innovations must renew their existing and firmly rooted corporate culture over the years. This is a rather difficult task, but the inability to change culture destroys any company’s attempts to innovate.

Corporate innovation requires an innovative culture

Innovation in an existing company is not just the sum of excellent technologies, core acquisitions and smart people. Corporate innovation requires a culture that matches and supports them. Often this means making changes to the company's existing culture. Persuading workers to abandon old values ​​and hopes and accept new ones that may entail new difficulties.

Often, corporate innovation initiatives begin and end with the mandate of a board meeting for the CEO, followed by reminders to employees, with a large number of posters and one-day workshops. As a rule, this creates a "theater of innovations", but there are very few innovations themselves.

Two consultants from McKinsey, Terry Deal and Arthur Kennedy, wrote a book entitled Corporate Culture: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. In it, they noted that each company has a culture - and this culture in short means "the way that everything is done in our company." The company's culture includes four main components:

• Values ​​/ beliefs - a set of philosophical principles on everything that the company does, and most importantly - what is its meaning
• Stories / myths - stories about how founders / employees overcame difficulties, sought new orders ...
• Heroes - for what are they awarded and what are they noted, how to become a hero in your organization?
• Rituals - what and how does the company celebrate?

The power of corporate culture

This was my third startup, Convergent Technologies, at which I began to understand the power of corporate culture. The values ​​and basic beliefs in the work of this crazy startup were embodied in the phrase that we are "Marine Corps of Silicon Valley." If you have never been interested in joining the Marine Corps, then you did not join them. If it was interesting to you (what usually happens with 20-year-old guys with increased testosterone), you tried to get into them.

By the time I got to them, the company already had a store of stories about how they “achieved the impossible” and “introduced innovations on their own”. Here, as a legend, they talked about how the founders changed direction from a simple assembly of a computer running on a single-circuit board with a new-fangled Intel microprocessor to selling full desktop stations with an operating system and office applications (the predecessor of PC) to other computer companies. And the CEO abruptly changed his strategy in the process of presentation to a client who was at first “not interested in this,” and then, at the same meeting, signed a contract for 45 million.

Each subsequent transaction with a good customer was celebrated (transactions cost tens of millions of dollars), and salespeople were honored as heroes. When any engineering intervention was required to fit the requirements under an expensive order (and this is almost every transaction), the engineers also became heroes. And when the marketing department went overnight to the place to support sales (which happened often), we were also heroes.

Ultimately, there were rituals and celebrations that accompanied every major order. Bells and gongs sounded. The CEO could give out checks for $ 100 and announce an instant bonus of $ 25 thousand, which was then talked about for years. Once he even wrote a warning with a spray can release a new product on time on the wall of the main hall (so rude that I can’t even retell, but this is still remembered after 30 years).

Despite the fact that my position, business card and job descriptions described my functions, these unwritten values, stories, heroes and rituals indicated what behavior is expected of me in my work.

Part 2

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