Chapter 3: The Corporation, The Real American Idol Part 7 – UPDATED 8/10
As we have seen in the previous chapters, idolatry goes beyond the literal definition of statue worship to include excessive devotion and/or blind adoration for an entity, idea, or force of nature. Moreover, this “idol worship” brings with it adoption of a value system other than the universal value system espoused by the Golden Rule*. (More on Universal Values here.) Value systems are important because they define the accepitble boundaries of human behavior. Corporate idolatry, then, has something to do with the adoption of a value system that permits a different set of behaviors than those permitted by The Golden Rule.
In the corporate world, the whole concept of values gets muddy because many corporations have a written set of positive “values” that frankly are more slogan than substance[i]. True values are what drive actual behavior, and they can be positive or negative. I find the McKinsey 7S framework particularly relevant model for organizational behavior. It categorizes 7 elements that together categorize a company. (See the image). Shared values are placed in the center because they touch and define the boundaries of all other aspects of the business, just as personal values touch and define the boundaries of behavior in a person. One of the biggest implications of 7S is that real change in an organization will not happen unless the shared values of the company change. Let me give you an example.
I interviewed multiple people from a Silicon Valley company about its transition a few years ago as its revenue surpassed $250 million dollars annually. The company had become large enough that the ad-hoc decision making was no longer effective, and product development was impeded by political infighting. The company sought to solve the problem through systems and staff. It hired a consulting company to deploy a new product development governance system. The system worked beautifully for a year – the product launches were streamlined, and groundbreaking. Customers were happy, revenues were through the roof, and the company was considered best in class by Wall Street.
But it didn’t last. The executive running product development was demoted, and soon left the company. Within a year or two product development once again political and ineffective, and revenues suffered. Why did this happen? From the perspective of someone who was caught in the trenches at the time, it made no sense and wasn’t rational. In the context of shared values, it does.
The values of the organization, (propagated by the founder/CEO) did not reward operational issues, or believe in customer feedback. The CEO had a certain vision of the world, and thought development resources should be concentrated on pushing the core technology, as opposed to the usability features requested by customers. And his vision was shared by a significant portion of the executive team, who were hired and promoted for that very reason. There was a mythical belief that all the company needed to do was to create more powerful hardware and the customers would love it.
* Treat others as you would like to be treated in a similar circumstance.
[i] What Do Corporate Values Really Mean? Published on February 7, 2010 by Ray Williams in Wired for Success http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201002/what-do-corporate-values-really-mean retrieved August 12, 2012