The Danger of Culture Cloning

culture perspectives Feb 02, 2017

At Adaptive Cultures, we believe that each cultural journey is unique and that there is no single ideal culture.

While similar attributes will exist within any adaptive culture, (for example increased empowerment, accountability, openness and trust) the journey to becoming adaptive will be different for each sustainably successful organisation.

In our experience, very few organisations (or culture consultants) recognise the uniqueness of every culture journey when they undertake significant culture work. This is often to their detriment. Some of the traps we see organisations fall into include:

  • Targeting an ‘ideal/perfect’ culture, rather than a culture aligned to the strategy and purpose of the organisation
  • Copying initiatives that are ‘best practice’ without thinking about contextual differences. If your culture is not set up to enable the initiative you implement, you are bound to be unsuccessful
  • A non-inclusive top-down approach without considering the views of the broader organisation or gathering inputs and diverse perspectives

What can be done to create a unique culture which enables your organisation’s aspirations:

  • Link culture change journey to purpose and strategy – help people to see how the changes they are making are adding value. To take this to the next level, some organisations align their strategy to their desired culture.
  • Learn from what others do well, and create your own way. Consider where the organisation can extend beyond best practice to create a unique differentiator.
  • Innovate through diversity – how an organisation builds ideas from the collective wisdom can be a very significant success factor.

Before cloning organisations which are celebrated as having more adaptive cultures (think Apple, Adidas, Google or Zappos) ensure that you consider the following:

  1. What were the preconditions occurring in the culture that enabled success?
  2. What stage of organisational maturity was the culture to begin with, where is it now and how did that impact on its success?
  3. How might this work or not work in the context of my organisation? The elements of culture that thrive in the context of a more mature culture (more adaptive organisations) are likely to cause havoc if implemented without the necessary conditions for success. Understand your current culture and context thoroughly before going about “culture change” or evolution.

For an organisation to maintain a unique position and to continue to evolve, it must be able to learn faster than its competition. Ruthless focus on creating agility and adaptability is essential. To become adaptive is a unique journey for every organisation which is very dependent on its current stage of cultural development.

Therefore to become an adaptive culture, create don’t clone.

As Larry Sann said, “Culture is not an initiative, culture is an enabler of all initiatives“.

To understand more about the stages of cultural development please refer to the Adaptive cultures whitepaper or register for our upcoming workshop on February 9th.

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Not available on this date? We offer bespoke introductions to organisations and groups – contact us for more information.

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