Test Can Technology Inspire Corporate Culture?

2019 Apr,05

Test There is a lot of buzz these days, about how the HR functions should “improve” the Corporate Culture. From “Employer of Choice” over “Modern Employer” programmes to “Improving Employee Experience” initiatives are being set up. All of this in an attempt to improve our employee engagement. But do we fully understand how that would be effective, and can technology instigate a more proactive supervision of the culture cultivation?  Let’s start with positioning what we mean with Corporate Culture.




According to Quin & Cameron ( https://bob-quinn.com/ ) there are 4 types of corporate culture.


a) The “Clan Culture” with remarkable characteristics such as Inspiring leaders – viewed as mentors and idols – and high levels of engagement, which result in long term relationships with the employee base. Think about the following; Marc Zuckerberg with Facebook or Elon Musk with Tesla and Bill Gates with Microsoft.

The Corporate Value definitions describe an attachment to personal relationship and morale. And Success is measured by the amount of openness, the attention to the need of the customer and the care for people. As a result, HR capabilities are focused on enabling Team Work, Participation and Consensus.

Typical examples of this type are companies such as Google and SaS-Institute. These companies usually accentuate smartness and excellence among its people.


b) The “Hierarchy Culture” which is representing a very structured environment with characteristics such as detailed processes and procedures for all possible situations. Their leaders are predominantly efficiency oriented and are in first instance coordinators and organisers. Overall, there is a very important focus on the smooth running of the corporate operations and HR is very preoccupied with formally describing rules and policies.

The Corporate Value here is aimed at stability and smooth execution of the many procedures. In this case Success is measured in terms of reliable and smooth delivery at the lowest cost. Consequently, HR capabilities are fixated on detailed job descriptions, rules, regulations and predictability.

Pretty much any Public Sector organisation would naturally serve as an example, but so would very likely the overwhelming majority of the financial services industry. Companies like ING, HSBC, or Credit Suisse struggle tremendously with their efforts to soften the policy driven management, due to a highly regulated environment, and are desperately trying to introduce more creativity.


c) The “Market Culture” which is very much results oriented in a competitive & goals-focused environment, with characteristics such as leaders who are fundamentally drivers and pushers. The whole enterprise operates in a competitive atmosphere, internally as well as towards the market, where “Winning” is predominantly what keeps the organisation together (so when they stop winning, the decay sets in)

The Corporate Values are firmly fixed on Reputation and Profit. For this type, Success is defined in terms of achievement of measurable targets and goals, market share and market penetration. As a result, HR capabilities are supporting the stiff inter-employee competition with very strong performance management and pay-for-performance programs. Oracle and IBM are two examples which come to mind, but so would any traditional commercial organisation which operates in a very competitive market. The question of course is always; how much does the “competitive spirit” corrupt the desire for collaboration and generic sense of care. Care for people as well as care for customers. And what influence does this have in the long run, on overall successful employee engagement.

d) The “Adhocracy Culture” which allows for a dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative environment, with characteristics where workers as well as leaders dare take calculated risks. Their leaders are setting the example as innovators and risk takers and the organisation is based on commitment, experimentation and innovation.

The Corporate Values for this type support trendsetting, growth and finding new sources. Sources of income, but also sources for knowledge, inspiration, stimulation and vision. In this case, Success is achieved with a valued stream of new, sometimes quite radically products and services. Consequently, HR capabilities are there to support the individual freedom and personal initiatives.

Typical examples for this type are companies such as Dyson, Electrolux and Apple. They are easily identified as the trendsetting innovator in some specific product or services area, and are often called “disruptors” in their industry.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Unfortunately, it would be too easy and entirely unfair to say that one type is good, the other is bad and the rest is ugly, since the effectiveness of a corporate culture needs to be seen within the wider environment in which it needs to operate. It would be difficult to see a Public Sector body operate with an Adhocracy Culture. I would hate to see the MOD experiment with its nuclear capability. And I would not want my personal bank to go overboard with the Clan Culture, when I apply for my next loan, looking for a consensus amongst team workers and other clients to decide what interest rate to apply… So, we must conclude on a couple of principles:

1) A Healthy Mix

The corporate culture is ideally a healthy mix of the four main types, with one type usually forming the dominant inspiration. In reality no organisation can operate solely lodged in one principle of culture. It would simply not survive.

As an example, you can expect American Express to be fairly Hierarchical with its approval and audit processes, but in a competitive environment with Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and third-party escrow payment options they need a lot of Market influence to keep them afloat.


2) A Healthy Balance

If left unattended there is a real risk that the balance of the cultural mix will slowly shift towards the more dominant type. This will result in a counterproductive, much too prominent promoting of an extreme culture. In the long run this will hurt the survival capacities of the company, and at some point, it will go bust, be exposed for mall-practice, loose its sense or be surpassed by the competition.

There are so many examples of companies with a dominant Market Culture, which moved further and further away from a healthy portion of Adhocracy, forgot to innovate and were simply surpassed by new ideas. Think about Toys ‘R’ Us, Maplin or Kleeneze … all organisations which forgot to innovate and were just margin driven.


3. The Right Dominance

It is stating the obvious if I would say that each organisation needs to determine first and foremost, which of the 4 types should be the dominant type. Defining this type usually flows naturally out of the early days of operations of the organisation, or is set by the necessity within the operating environment. However, it is much more difficult, once the dominant type is set, to change the culture towards a different dominant type.

Organisations like SAP or British Airways are continuously trying to adjust and introduce more innovation - Adhocracy -, while attaching a lot of importance to loyalty and openness and care for their people - Clan -. But even the slightest adjustment is often compared to a 500K-ton oil tanker trying to navigate the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.

4. Align the Balance

As an HR Function it is important that we align the promotion and the correct balance of cultures with the overall business imperatives;

  • If you are NASA, it’s good you have some Clan & Adhocracy aspects, you really need some Hierarchy and it is bad if you have too much Market culture.

If you are HSBC, its good you have quite a bit of Market and Hierarchy weight, but you also need some Adhocracy, while too much Clan culture will be bad.


HR’s Role in Nurturing the Culture

Contrary to what we can hear in many executive leadership discussions, I don’t believe it is up to the HR Function to set the mix and balance of culture of the organisation. This is a privilege, even a duty for the C-level leaders in charge. Ultimately this should be part of the vision they have set out for the company.

However, the HR Function can play a very active role in the monitoring and facilitation of the cultural objectives, and it can do this by translating vision into action. Ultimately HR Function has the best view of which talent-types align best with what culture type. By continuous communication with the business and monitoring human performance indicators, they understand best how to influence a certain cultural behaviour.

You must ask yourself; so how can technology inspire this frankly quite complex exercise? Well, here is an example;

  • The Assessment

In any form of transformation project, it is always wise to start with an assessment of the current situation. What culture is prevailing in the different departments of the organisation, and what effect do they have on the achievement of set objectives? This is not a one-of measurement, but needs to be a continuous monitoring of the different characteristics which make up the corporate culture.


Technology is a major facet of the assessment and monitoring of culture. Employee Survey technology and Mood Sensor Apps together with Descriptive Analytics, Predictive Analytics and Dashboard tools provide the business leaders with a more accurate view of what engagement levels are living in the organisation. Performance Management applications like KPI or OKR scorecard technology and even the HR Helpdesk technology can complete a detailed view of the current culture patterns.

(Twitter from GSK’s svp HR)


  • Influencing A Transition

In case of an alteration or adjustment of the culture is needed to align better with the set course of the corporate mission, it is for HR to determine how best to achieve this. HR is also the sponsor or spokesperson to draw special attention to programmes designed to influence the corporate culture. So, the traditional areas that are being used to influence are;

  • Talent management, recalibration of 9 box, creation of new specific roles, talent moves and changes.
  • Performance management, setting new expectations for all employees.
  • Learning management, leadership development, high potential learning programmes, new skills and capability training.
  • Total rewards management, new rewards, perks, spot bonus and other focussed benefits.
  • Career and Succession management, defining future workforce map, strategic talent, future organisation capability with accompanying career paths.
  • Collaboration and Communication management, open communication platforms, promoting collaboration and “Let’s Talk” attitudes, listening to what employees have to say.

This is an area where technology can achieve a lot more than currently is valued. And I am not suggesting the traditional HRIS platforms such as Workday, SuccessFactors or Oracle Cloud HCM. Those are only the foundation of the HR Tech landscape; they are needed but they will not make a difference. We need to look beyond these information systems into the realm of new trendsetting apps, usually start-ups or smaller tech vendors, who have the agility to focus on what really matters in one particular area. There are a tremendous number of mobile apps or even SaaS application vendors focussing on the employee experience in the field of collaborative learning, or perks and spot rewards, goals and career management coaching. This is the technology you are looking for to really influence small aspects and attributes of working at your organisation, with a big cultural impact. They are usually not very expensive in use, and – again – combined with workforce analytics applications, will provide a more practical way of influencing and monitoring behavioural change.

CB Insights publishes on a regular basis overviews of where investors put their money. This list (see above) provides a May 2018 overview.

  • Defining The Transformation Programmes

This brings us to the more important role for HR leadership, in nurturing the corporate culture, which is defining transformation programmes with short term as well as long term action plans. Since the HR Function these days, does not sit down the corridor form the departmental business leader, but is usually centralised, or at least regionalised in service centres, it has become more difficult to keep the finger on the pulse and take swift actions when an intervention is needed. On top of that, with the increasing pace of change, actions are expected to have almost immediate effect. Fortunately, in this digital age, technology offers all of these services, of course, when adequately implemented and used.


Short Term Action Programmes These action plans usually focus on:


- New Learning Services, expanding the learning catalogue or even introducing new learning concepts such as “collaborative learning” or “social learning”  - Gamification in LMS, Case-Based Collaboration Apps, Walk-me-Through applications, Neuroscientific-based capability testing tools, Video based collaboration  


- Leadership Development, usually offering more hands-on coaching and mentoring services, to help managers and leaders be more inclusive and follow the corporate values - Coach-Me apps, Personalised Mentor Apps, Leadership guide technology  


- Monitoring and Measuring Services, providing metrics on key performance indicators as well as simple indication of “how many” or “actuals versus target” - Descriptive analytics and dashboards, Embedded analytics within the transaction process

- Collaboration and Communication Services, offering new ways of connecting the workforce and inciting productive communication - Instant messaging, forum and programme-blogs, enterprise social networks


Long Term Action Programmes are generally more complex, and involve cross-departmental initiatives, requiring a lot more coordination;

- Talent Acquisition Transformation, improving the success rate of candidates, provide a better match and in general speed up the time to fill significantly. This usually is paired with an adoption of contemporary Candidate Relationship Management principles - Job aggregator technology, neuroscientific testing apps, AI and robotic process automation, advanced applicant tracking applications, recruitment CRM, video interviewing and cross-departmental onboarding portals.

- Talent Innovation Programmes, with introduction of talent pooling, job rotation schemes, improved internal mobility and high-potential leadership acceleration, in order to align the talent capabilities to the long-term cultural challenges - Mobility portals, career coaching apps, internal & external talent pool apps, workforce planning apps

- Knowledge Management Programmes to increase the availability and access to corporate knowledge, information and intelligence and support creative business innovation initiatives - Online knowledge base applications, integration of artificial intelligence and natural language processing capabilities within the corporate service portals.

- Transparency And Employer Branding Programmes, clearly and continuously articulating the values, attitudes and character the organisation identifies itself with. - People portal, corporate social media and branded enterprise social networks.

- Total Rewards Transformation, which better and more directly influences the right behaviour, performance and engagement of the workforce. - My perk apps, flexible benefits applications with integrated AI & robotic process automation, spot-bonus apps, pay-for-performance integration

- Active Workforce Analytics, in order to predict across the entire organisation, the talent, capability and behaviour requirements for mid- and long-term sustainability of the corporate organisation. - Strategic workforce planning applications, predictive analytics applications with prescriptive analytics capabilities.


HR Strategy and Culture


In contrast with traditional HR Planning – which focusses on the transactional operations of HR – human resources strategy is a long-term exercise and focuses on workforce planning and workforce development from a forward-thinking perspective. It is preoccupied with alignment of employee qualifications with the organisation’s needs.


Traditionally, HR Strategy is a fairly isolated exercise, which includes recruitment, employee relations, labour relations, compensation and benefits, workplace safety and learning and development definitions.


Today however, the definition of the HR Strategy is an integrated exercise, covering 8 important areas, of which Culture and how to improve cultural through sensitive behaviour patterns, forms a central part.


Together with Alignment to business goals, Identification of objectives, organisational Performance, organisational Design they complement the traditional areas, to form the strategic compass of the contemporary enterprise.


In the recent past, I have witnessed a number of international organisations update and describe successfully their HR Strategy, to include technical advantages, which this digital age allows us, while responding to the following challenges:


--The integration of the 8 areas in a coherent approach, while the cultural aspect functions as a guide and the technology architecture functions as an enabler.


--Successfully determine the weight factor and dominance of each of the 8 areas, which evidently depended on the individual corporate situation, and was correctly defined via an assessment exercise – enabled via the use of specialised technology.


--Appropriately adjust the HR Function’s capability and target operating model to deliver the strategy as well as the new required technology foot-print.


With these enterprises, technology has proven to be inspirational, once fully embraced and understood. With millennials entering the majority of our operational roles, it is increasingly important that we embrace the digital consumption principals which this population has been brought up with.

This is why we can witness tech companies such as Workday, Adobe, SalesForce, Google and such, being a lot more successful with engagement-aimed cultural adjustment in their HR strategies than in any other industry. This is very simply because they show technology as part of their DNA and have understood using this to serve their HR Stakeholders is a crucial and valuable foundation for any employer in the digital consumption age.


My Final Argument Is This:

“In the current age of consumer grade digital consumption, every organisation, across all industries should by now have embraced and infused technology very thoroughly into their back-office service architectures. As a consequence, the HR Function must transform itself, and start this transformation at the very top! HR Function Leadership must drive this cultural change. A perception change, from being “subjected” and “infiltrated” by technology, to using technology as a source for cultural inspiration and cost-efficient way of delivering service quality improvement across the integrated 8 areas of hr strategy.”

Author: Peter M. Cools, Managing Director, PeMaCo International Advisory Services.