How Corporate Culture Drives Results


“The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of their organization is going to blow the competition away.” ~ Walter Wriston, former CEO Citicorp

If your people continue to think and act as they do now, can you expect to achieve the results you need?

If your answer is no, then changing your organizational culture is not an option—it’s an imperative.

A New York Times headline April 27, 2011 claims a culture of complicity was tied to Japan’s stricken nuclear plant disaster.

NASA’s 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster is another tragic example of what happens when cultural norms fail. Six months after the shuttle disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, NASA investigators found that “organizational culture and structure had as much to do with the accident as the [shuttle’s damaged] foam.”

Similarly, organizational culture had contributed to the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, which also killed seven crew members. As Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman wrote in an appendix to NASA’s official report: “It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management.”

The ultimate responsibility for both shuttles’ failures fell on NASA executives who ignored, dismissed or minimized engineering experts’ testimony.

How can organizational culture prevent future disasters? And conversely, how can we use culture to drive spectacular results?

Research shows that the right culture champions high levels of performance and ethical behavior. When organizations design and support a culture that encourages outstanding individual and team contribution, they achieve amazing bottom-line results.

As with NASA, leaders who ignore a disconnected culture risk failure and potentially tragic results.