Effective Versus Ineffective Corporate Cultures

Organizational culture is rapidly becoming the single most important controllable variable behind strategic success in business today – because it allows you to be nimble and attract the best talent. (It’s also difficult for competitors to copy culture.)

If you’re investing in change, you can’t afford to risk failure – but even today 75% of all change efforts fail. This equates to millions of dollars in losses.

Below are primary ways a corporate culture gets expressed, and how they play out in an ineffective versus effective culture. See detailed research on how these culture traits link to business results.

ActivityIneffective CultureEffective (Adaptive) Culture

Decision Making

  • Log-jams due to unclear authority
  • Over-focused on research and discussion
  • Analysis replaces action
  • Often addresses wrong problem or band-aid fix
  • Minimal points of view considered
  • Effective decisions are made “low” and close to the customer with a bias for action
  • Addresses root cause of problems
  • Predictive and planning-oriented versus reactive
  • Considers broad range of perspectives up and down the chain


  • Details “fall through the cracks”
  • Weak or poor planning processes exclude those who will implement
  • Blame attitude prevails when something goes wrong: “I’m accountable, you’re not.”
  • Rampant role confusion
  • Ongoing clarity about roles Handoffs come with CRYSTAL CLEAR expectations and pathways for where to go if stuck
  • Hierarchy less important than ownership
  • People well-trained on how to build strategy, plans, solutions, and action plans


  • Heavy on information, light on context
  • One-way (“tell”) versus interactive dialogue
  • Dry, fact-based financial data versus stories about success
  • Reinforces boundaries of function, geography, and hierarchy
  • Leaders visibly and public promote the right culture through storytelling versus “just the numbers”
  • Continuous messages about “why we are we doing this (change)” and “how we are achieving our vision and strategy”
  • Two-way feedback-driven dialogue is as important as “PR” media such as email and websites
  • Breaks down walls and boundaries


  • Sponsorship unclear
  • Meetings lack clear goal or effective engagement by everyone
  • Insulated within a department, little incentive for outreach and networking
  • Goals not linked to strategy or vision
  • Unrealistic timelines
  • Membership roles fuzzy
  • Commonly used charter process that links projects and goals to vision and strategy
  • Meeting facilitators have skill to drive toward a clear goal and involve everyone in the process
  • Focuses on cross-functional collaboration, design, and problem solving
  • Members empowered and skilled to carry out recommendations

Customer Interface

  • Requires the customer to work hard to figure it out
  • Employees have no idea how to help someone across a business unit or functional boundary (eg, sales to customer support)
  • Organized to provide one point of contact
  • Customer-facing employees are highly responsive and align with unhappy customers
  • Lots of cross-functional integration
  • Training is substantial

Feedback for Diversity

  • Blame-oriented
  • Primarily offered during annual performance review or when a mistake was made
  • Fear versus “we’re in this together” attitude permeates the process
  • Diversity and conflict are avoided and seen as negative
  • People eagerly seek and give feedback — it is viewed as critical to success
  • “Lessons learned” process used to manage risk is straightforward and non-political
  • Diversity and conflict are sought through honest, healthy dialogue that allows multiple points of view to emerge
  • Learning, coaching and mentoring are the focus