3 ways leaders erode organizational culture


Expansive health systems with numerous hospital facilities as well as newly merged entities often experience fragmented cultures, which leaders know can impede standardization, diminish "oneness" and downplay the corporate brand.

Fragmentation is a natural effect of increasing scale, and supporting cohesion is no easy feat. Unfortunately, executives often opt for superficial approaches to unify newly combined organizations or disparate facilities under the same umbrella, according to Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, an executive consulting firm.

In an article he penned for the Harvard Business Review, Mr. Carucci outlines three recurring management pitfalls he calls "faux-hesion," or the "institutionalized pretense of unity," that he says undermine cohesion more than they create it.  

1. Outlining "targets" instead of designing a real strategy. The most unifying factor of any type of organization is its "enthusiastically embraced strategy," according to Mr. Carucci. However, many organizations don't have one. Citing a McKinsey study of 2,135 executives, Mr. Carucci said most corporate strategies "developed idiosyncratically to their organizations, people and markets" fail at least seven out of 10 core tests for viable strategy.

Deploying big targets intended to drive the organization are weaker substitutes than a shared direction rooted in a widespread strategy because they don't "unify organizations to reach them. It may whip them into a brief frenzy of enthusiasm, but once the hype settles, it's back to business as usual," Mr. Carucci wrote. Furthermore, unattainable targets can backfire by undermining the leadership's credibility, weakening employee morale and ultimately leading to inertia.

2. Asserting new values to correct cultural deficits. Most organizations have a set of published values, such as integrity, innovation and respect. These keywords can serve as healthy reminders for employees to exhibit desired behaviors and attitudes, but sporadically adding new values to address pervasive cultural issues fails to address the underlying cause for such problems. For instance, "honesty" may become a new value when there is a scandal.

"When a new value is declared with the unspoken intention of fixing the people asked to embrace it, you can bet embracing it is the last thing that happens," Mr. Carucci wrote. Instead of simply listing off new catchphrases, leaders must address the people who they perceive are not living up to the organization's values.

Importantly, the leadership team must set the strongest example for such values, otherwise "values become a weapon used to expose the hypocrisy of leaders whose failure to model them becomes everyone else's excuse not to, either," Mr. Carucci wrote.

3. Calling for an abundance of meetings and reports in lieu of implementing clear decision-making processes. An excessive amount of meetings and reports are symptoms of poor governance, according to Mr. Carucci. Some leaders may think convening for meetings and creating spreadsheets and presentations are evidence of productivity and foster cohesion. "But simply breathing the same air does not result in cohesion, and in fact, usually backfires as people eventually resent the useless meetings and the people in them. And the waste of such an approach can't be overstated," wrote Mr. Carucci.

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