Ray Kane


Corporate culture: The missing link to success

Culture needs to be critical element when making decisions

In the private sector, a significant amount of time is spent on bid/no-bid decisions. An in-depth analysis of the competitive picture, financial considerations, best strategies, personnel availability and many other key issues are usually considered.

But rarely, do we discuss corporate culture – ours or the prospective customer’s. A lack of understanding and alignment with a customer’s culture could be a major problem in achieving the results each party desires.

In the private sector, a bidding company’s corporate culture usually has a long life line and does not change frequently. Some external issues could contribute to change such as mergers and acquisitions or a fundamental change in business direction. The following are just a few examples.

In the 1950’s, General Electric began decentralization. In another major corporate shift, GE’s Jack Welch changed focus from manufacturing to financial services. In the 1980s and 90s, the computer industry moved emphasis from hardware delivery to services delivery. It continues in that direction to this day.

The following items (not all inclusive) are some of the cultural issues to be analyzed before bid submission:

  • Is the customer looking for “arms and legs” to precisely follow their directions? Do they (or do you) tightly manage a project (micromanage)? If a supplier’s culture rewards and hires free thinkers, mini-entrepreneurs, or envelope-pushing talent, the program will probably be doomed by employee turnover or customer dissatisfaction. Conversely, if low-level talent is provided to a customer who expects and welcomes new approaches and ideas, problems could ensue.
  • If your company’s focus is on serving a single customer set, federal, state or local, defense, or civilian, will it have an impact on program success if you are looking to change focus for a specific bid? In a minor way geographical location, where the work is to be performed, can enter into the review.
  • How does the customer measure performance? Are they committed to a specific methodology such as ITIL, Microsoft Project, or if Veterans Affairs, PMSA. Can we perform well under the customer required measurement techniques? Do they spend sufficient time to discuss possible sub-par performance or do they issue many “cure” letters?
  • Is the customer organization in a state of change, new political appointees, reorganization, beginning collaboration or consolidation? How will it affect service delivery?
  • Does the customer insist on strict adherence to chain-of-command? Are decisions made in a timely manner? Will there be access to top management if needed to resolve issues?
  • Does the customer have long running legacy systems? Is what we’re selling compatible with this culture?
  • Can we turn down work that is not in our “sweet spot”? This is a two-edged sword. Many customers appreciate a contractor who can say no to requirements that will potentially produce unacceptable results. This is particularly true in task order type contracts.
  • Does the customer embrace social media? Do they expect you to be part of their interest in this issue?
  • What is this potential customer’s record on payment? Capital lock-up (waiting for payment) can be costly.
  • Will loyalty to the agency and its mission be rewarded? There are agencies and customers who have a record of turnover on every contractual cycle. If you satisfy the basic contractual needs, will satisfying their wants and desires be welcomed and rewarded?

There are many more issues to be considered, but the first requirement is for a company to truly understand their own corporate culture. Does it really permeate the entire organization or is it only visible (and operative) in certain parts of the organization? Spending time to identify and understand your corporate culture is time well spent.

About the Author

Ray Kane is a consultant who has worked in the federal market for more than 40 years.

Reader Comments

Wed, Jan 5, 2011 M Reston

Organizations have culture, if they have existed a year or two. One thing I have never seen, however, is a culture that is even remotely related to what the leadership says it is. What the leadership usually says about culture is universally pap. One of my favorite vapid leadership expressions is when there is an acquisition and the acquiring leadership says, "We wanted to be sure the cultures matched." Lie! You will note they don't even comment on what type of "culture" they are talking about.

Tue, Dec 28, 2010 ITIL Questions www.ITILCertificationExam.com

All corporations have a culture which usually sustained by an elite few who only are eager to embrace what made them successful or what they feel their competitors may be doing to gain an advantage. You can send all your employees to any number of methodolgy training sessions -- ITIL, Six Sigma, CMMI, etc. Nothing will change except the office expressions. Meaning, the new buzzwords will replace the old but the thought and "spirit" behind activities will remain exactly the same ....until the coporate culture changes. In other words, the elite few finally want to change or are forced to change.

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 Marvin the Know it All D C

Nick, and Ray (most of all): neither of you seem conversant with management and org dev theory and actual practice concerning culture. You barely discuss values, morality, how people are treated, how honest one is with customers, suppliers, diversity, social responsibility, etc. Rather you seem mainly interested in commonplace tactical mgt methods with little strategy or organizational thinking. In sum, you both seem to ignore culture. That said, I believe most govt contractors give little attention to culture, which is why they often "feel" like the unhappy place that is the government, and like each other. Culture counts for little in this world, except for a very few companies. As Nick said: Happy Holidays, and, Good Luck Next Year.

Fri, Dec 24, 2010 Nick Trendov Canada

Ray,it may be too close to Christmas for this comment--it's a little like saying Santa Claus is a myth--but Corporations don't have culture, people have culture. Corporations have goals, metrics, processes that manifest products supported by their only true asset, people. It may be easier to replace the 'culture' myth with a language or religious metaphore as culture is beyond translating three or four letter acronyms, conditioned behaviours or belief, in my opinion. Happy holidays and good luck next year.

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