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Do you understand your company's personality?

Minda Zetlin | March 11, 2014
Corporate culture may matter even more to your project's success than ROI does. Here's how to work with it rather than against it.

"The fastest way to make any real change is to spend a lot of time talking to people, and that always seems to take too long," says Stephen Balzac, president of 7 Steps Ahead. When he coaches CIOs, he says, they often ask, "Why don't we just do it?"

"How has that worked for you in the past?" Balzac asks.

"People push back," the CIOs admit.

Then he explains that "it's not how fast you go, it's how smoothly you accelerate."

From Four to One
Dale Danilewitz, CIO at AmerisourceBergen, an $88 billion pharmaceutical wholesaler headquartered in Valley Forge, Pa., is charged with centralizing what had previously been four separate IT operations at four separate lines of business.

At the same time, his mission is to increase the amount of IT services that are charged back to business units. To complicate matters further, the company has divisions across the U.S. and is expanding globally. Many IT operations and staffers are still embedded within business units.

To help far-flung IT people come together as a team, Danilewitz does a lot of communicating, by email, through the company's internal social network, with road shows, in monthly all-hands teleconference town hall meetings, and even with posters and other materials promoting IT's goals.

It was at one of the town hall meetings that he encountered a common cultural trap: What the speaker means isn't always what the listener hears. Danilewitz was discussing the need for the unified IT department to come together behind common technologies rather than clinging to whichever apps they had been using before centralization.

To underscore the point, he noted, "We are providing a service and shouldn't think of ourselves as the only service provider available to the business. We have to hold ourselves accountable, because if we're too complacent, the business may look elsewhere for that service."

His words struck a nerve with one business unit's IT group. That group had been through downsizing in which many of its jobs were outsourced, and people feared that the same thing might be happening again.

"That was not my intent," Danilewitz says. "I had to recover and provide a better explanation."

It was a great illustration of how corporate culture affects perceptions without our being aware of it. "It's like an accent," he says. "You don't know you have one until you encounter a different one."

- Minda Zetlin

'That's How We've Always Done It'
Whenever you hear phrases like "That's the way it is around here" or "That's how we've always done it," you're dealing with corporate culture. Tread carefully: Cultural impulses aren't always logical, and there's always more to them than meets the eye.


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