Talking about Culture but…

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This past weekend we completed our white paper on “Culture and High Performance in R&D;”. Our preliminary findings based on interviews with 23 senior R&D; leaders in the Twin Cities are summarized therein. I undoubtedly am listening with new attentiveness to what others are saying (0r not) about the role of organizational culture in today’s business environment.

Yesterday I attended a forum at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, on “Innovation, Drivers and Impediments”. Among the panelists were Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce as well as Bill Hawkins, President and CEO of Medtronic, George Buckley, President and CEO of 3M, and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman of the Board of Carlson Company.

Frequent and recurrent reference was made to “culture” during the course of the afternoon.

George Buckley, in commenting about 3M yesterday, said “3M is more like an organism than an organization. …It comes down to culture. People respect what you inspect. …Culture comes down to what it is you talk about, what it is you communicate.”

Marilyn Carlson Nelson said, “Cultures willing to accept tolerance for risk have the greatest opportunity for innovation.”

There was nothing dramatically new or radical in what I heard yesterday. Furthermore, in doing a literature search on the subject earlier this summer, my colleagues and I found that very little has been written on organizational culture in recent years. Most of the literature on the subject dates to the early 90s. I wonder why this is?? And there is even less written about culture and the R&D; function. Maybe we can change the tide?

Can anyone cite recent work on culture that has especially grabbed your attention? Let us know.

Meanwhile, be glad to share with you a copy of our white paper.

  • Wasn’t there, is there a video anywhere? Did Bill Hawkins say anything that caught your attention?

  • I am not certain this directly applies, but one book that has stuck in my head in recent years is “Leading Geeks” by Paul Glen, et al. Even though I am not a huge fan of the term “geek” and though I think the book misses the mark in some instances, the overall feel of the book is essentially correct. In essence it is an examination of particular sub-culture – that of the research person. There is no question that there is a huge tension between the mandates of accounting and Gantt charts and those of the technical (and creative) creative mandates of the research personnel.

    I think being able to understand sub-cultures of an organization is as important as understanding the culture as a whole.