Can Your Culture Use a Redesign?

October 15, 2003 · by James P. Cramer

Without your leadership the organization’s culture may not develop the edge that success requires; without it expectations will falter and disappoint. You are the de facto designer of your organization’s culture.

The culture of an organization should be upbeat, technically competent and focused on the future. With clear and inspiring vision and robust communication you can lead—no matter what your title, age or sex. You can be a liberating and empowering energy source to build a culture that is key to the productivity that makes for a successful firm. You may be in a merger or acquisition predicament or a firm that feels rudderless. Still you can step into the story, and you must. Without your leadership the organization’s culture may not develop the edge that success requires; without it expectations will falter and disappoint. You are the de facto designer of your organization’s culture.

Intense internal competition between conflicting cultures in a firm often makes confrontation a fundamental aspect of life in the role of a design leader. Therefore by design, a leader cannot abdicate responsibility for shaping the culture. Pulling punches is not allowed, yet civility is a requirement. Think of mobilizing design as a strategy, an instinct, and an essential tool for progress.

Every aspect of a firm’s culture can be improved by design. Take operations, human resources, marketing, financial management, project management and all that falls under the umbrella of professional services.

The challenge to architects and designers is clear. They need to be evangelists for design as it applies to the whole of professional practice. How do we make the best case for designing a better culture? By example is the most defensible and honorable means. But that’s only part of the answer.

Take a moment and rate yourself. Answer honestly and use a critical eye.

These five areas of leadership can be used to design the culture of the firm. It doesn’t require genius, but the principles are leveraged by consistency and reason.

Whether your firm is large or small, new or old, merged or fragmented, you can shape the culture for the better by design. To get positive results you must exercise persistence month after month, and behave positively. Negative behavior will blunt your success. Live your values, hit your targets, make change a friend and forgive honest errors. Finally, organize yourself to apply the power of design.

—James P. Cramer

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