How Do I Change the Culture in My Organization?

Tie Culture Change to Business Outcomes

 By Gary Randazzo

As a manager you may find that your organization has flaws that are hampering performance. These flaws may have become a “hard wired” part of the organization’s culture and to move the organization forward you need to shift or remake the culture.

Larry Bossidy, former chairman of Honeywell International, writes that most organizations attempts to change culture fail because they are not tied to improving business outcomes.

Culture is the result of management practices and philosophy that is developed over time. Everyone in the organization knows the culture and most abide by the attitudes and approaches that define the path to success in the organization.

I can recall working in a very successful, very large newspaper organization that was entering into the commercial printing business. They were making some headway but not the kind of growth they had envisioned.

The newspaper was located in a big city and the commercial printing opportunities were significant. One challenge was the presses owned by the newspaper. The presses that printed the newspaper used the letterpress process, which didn’t produce the quality provided by the offset process used by commercial printers. To address this the newspaper purchased a printing company that had heat set offset printing presses. This not only provided offset printing it allowed even higher (near magazine) quality printing.

While this provided an advantage, this printing press was only economically viable for large press runs. This limited the ability to sell smaller print jobs. To address this the newspaper used smaller commercial printers to print the jobs sold by the newspaper’s sales staff.

This is where culture got in the way. The newspaper had an approved list of two or three outside printing vendors that could be used. These printers had long standing relationships with the newspaper. Their prices were well above market prices thereby limiting the sales to those in desperate need or who were not knowledgeable of printing prices. At times, the newspaper would bundle advertising with printing and discount the advertising to offset cost of the printing. Since the newspaper was the primary advertising vehicle at the time, this approach generated a respectable amount of revenue but provided less profit than just selling advertising.1

This approach was the result of a culture that emphasized the newspaper’s leadership position in the marketplace. Basically, it said to staff and ultimately to the market that the newspaper set the rules, not the marketplace. All too often a request made by a customer was simply turned away due to lack of capacity or inability to meet the customer’s needs.

There is a huge chasm between identifying the need for a cultural shift and actually causing a cultural shift. We knew we needed to change because there was a lot of business that was going to competitors. We were primarily concerned with winning back grocery advertisers that used to insert their circulars in the newspaper but had moved to the mail. In so doing grocers had found printing vendors would give them high quality printing, low prices and good production support.  To move forward we would have to significantly change our culture to one that was focused on the customer.

Clearly, the only way we were going to change culture was to have a significantly positive business outcome directly related to a change favoring a focus on customer service.

We were fortunate that circumstances arose that allowed us to test the water a bit. We sold a very large contract that required the use of new outside services. A Vice President showed his displeasure and lobbied to use the old approach. Using the old approach however, would mean cancelling a very profitable, multimillion-dollar contract. It was ultimately decided that it was in the company’s best interest to fulfill the contract. This opened the door to try this approach on several other advertisers.

Over the next year or so our commercial printing revenues doubled and our profits improved at an even higher rate. More importantly we were able to position ourselves as a provider that could meet virtually any printing need.

As an example, late one Monday morning we received a frantic call from one of our largest advertisers that they needed a circular delivered by mail and it needed to be in consumers mailboxes by that Thursday. We said that it wouldn’t be a problem, just tell us where we needed to pick up the circulars and we would deliver them to the Post Office.

She told us that the circulars hadn’t been printed. We said it might be a little more difficult but we would drop by and pick up the artwork. She then told us that the artwork wasn’t ready. Further, when we sent a production manager to collect materials as they were produced we found that scanning the artwork was slowing the process.

The production manager called one of the printing vendors and alerted them of the situation. Scanning was dropped in favor of a flatbed camera.  This and a few other production process changes allowed us to get the customer’s circular into their customers’ mailboxes on that Thursday.

This kind of service led to the ability to advise customers on all of their advertising and ad production needs. We found ourselves providing photography services, digital imaging services and direct mail services.

By tying the needed change directly to business outcomes, the newspaper was able to change its culture from one focused on past practices to one focused on customer needs.


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