The advantages to working in large corporations aren’t as great as they once were. The days of career stability and loyalty between company and employee are largely over. Once part of an implied contract, the concepts almost seem quaint these days.
One unexpected benefit though, is the ability to watch the world in microcosm. If you can learn to understand a corporation’s culture, you begin to see patterns that play out in the world at large. The company becomes a useful laboratory to start understanding why groups of people behave the way they do.
An essential guide to help understand corporate cultures is Edgar Schein’s Organizational Culture and Leadership. Though it is essentially a text book, Schein keeps it interesting by using stories of different corporations to make his points. It is a fascinating book and the conclusions largely ring true. Best of all, the lessons seem to apply to any organization, regardless of size or purpose. And the insights really help to explain human behavior in companies, clubs, political parties and even regions; and how behavior changes based on the environment.
One lesson that we have lived repeatedly in our professional lives is the challenge of changing a culture. Leaders often try to rally the troops with a call for “culture change”, especially when things are not going to plan. Schein teaches that to really make a culture change you first have to expose the discrepancies between the stated values of an organization and its actual behavior. This is something few leaders are willing to acknowledge, let alone discuss.