iStock_000012926891_Large

The Risky Business of Corporate Culture

Do companies worry about the consequences of a culture so ingrained that it becomes a barrier to innovation and change?

Myron Gray | UPS

The following is based on a speech given by Myron Gray, president of U.S. Operations for UPS, at the Seattle Rotary Club on September 2, 2015.

Myron Gray

Most companies feel they have a distinct corporate culture, one that has evolved over time around the values and practices shared by their employees.

Most also would say their culture is one of the company’s greatest strengths, helping to instill a spirit of teamwork and aligning employees around common goals.

But I wonder how many companies worry about the consequences of a culture so ingrained that it becomes a barrier to innovation and change?

[Also on Longitudes: The Multiple Faces of Leadership]

Cultivating Culture

One hundred and eight years ago, a few young men gathered in a basement storefront in downtown Seattle to start the company that would become United Parcel Service. Little did they know they also were sowing the seeds of one of the most distinctive cultures in corporate America.

Our culture has cemented what we value and how we work: deliberately, precisely and efficiently. We have strong opinions about the way a company should be run: responsibly, profitably and with integrity.

Meetings at our company often start with a reading from our Policy Book, which contains the fundamental values and principles that have shaped our company for more than a century.

Recent research backs up the esteemed place culture has in corporate America today.

Fortune magazine recently released a study that said business decision makers place greater significance on a business partner’s culture than ever before.

Pullquote share icon. Share

Companies that routinely toss aside new ideas by saying, “That’s not how we do it around here,” could fall victim to culture’s backlash.

According to the study, 80 percent of global executives agree that a successful company’s biggest idea is often the one on which it was built.

But culture and its trappings are also now one of our most significant challenges.

We are not alone in this challenge. Any company that routinely tosses aside new ideas by saying, “That’s not how we do it around here,” or bases decisions on what it thinks its founders would prescribe, could fall victim to culture’s backlash.

Plenty of companies were so intent on staying on the path of least resistance that they didn’t see the threat coming up behind them. Winners became losers because it was easier to keep doing the things that made them winners in the first place.

So, the question becomes: “How do you manage for growth while respecting your past?” My answer, is that the job falls to leaders. And it’s a job in three critical parts.

[Also on Longitudes: Making Cities Stronger]

Moving Forward While Respecting the Past 

First, leaders must be confident enough to hire people smarter than they are and ones who don’t fit the traditional mold.

The second thing leaders must do is recognize the power of the individual. Especially those who don’t look, act and think exactly like they do.

Finally, leaders who want to respect culture while managing for the future must be inquisitive enough to ask the right questions, starting with “Is there a better way?”

Pullquote share icon. Share

If leaders are not curious about what might be, they’re going to leave potential on the table every day.

If leaders are not curious about what might be – if they’re not, as UPS founder Jim Casey described as “constructively dissatisfied” – they’re going to leave potential on the table every day.

Those of us in leadership positions – especially those of us who have been around for a while – must ask ourselves another important question: “Are we obstructing a view of the future?”

I also know that culture and dominant logic cut both ways. They can provide the discipline that companies need to perform consistently over the long haul. They also can act as blinders to fresh, new perspectives.

Leaders need to make sure that neither they nor an allegiance to company culture distort a clean line of sight to imagination and opportunity. goldbrown2

Picture1
Myron Gray is President of U.S. Operations for UPS. He is responsible for all package delivery and logistics services for the world's largest economy in the United States.

Click the RSS icon to subscribe to future articles by this author. RSS Feed

Reuse

We welcome the re-use, republication, and distribution of our content – just as long as you credit us. So we ask that you insert the following tagline when you use our content:

Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.

2 Comments

  1. Kellie Aamodt

    Well said….in fact, the criteria we utilize to identify future leaders needs to change….flexibility, the ability to continuously learn, and the desire to be an early adopter are qualities that we have not had to “evaluate” for in the past, but will be critical in the future due to the continued heightened pace of change. Culture can be rock that keeps us grounded or become the anchor that sinks us.

  2. hankmullen2015

    EnteI wonder if the Policy book still reads “determined men” or is that been changed?
    I was a partner in the 1970 to 1977 ending up as center manager in Watertown N.Y.
    At one time I was Customer Service manager in Buffalo N.Y. and Cal Darden was one of the Reps.

    What a great article and a solid way UPS has changed the management style.

    I hope the company has the foresight to see your ideas and management style.
    Cut me and I still bleed Brown.

    The Best LTL, Truckload, Package Carriers

    Time to let the secret out; who is the best? By Hank Mullen and Bill Pugh
    I had the recent pleasure of talking to the Publix store manager in Hickory Flat, Georgia and his boss a few days ago. I told them of the Forbes article (see reference) and how impressive the numbers, management philosophy, and how it was similar to Jim Casey’s management style of UPS. I started at UPS as a package car driver for 2 years and as a UPS “Partner” for 5 years in the early 1970’s.

    Hank Mullen hank.mullen@dynarates.com
    r your comment here…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s