When it comes to culture, an organizational-development expert can give you much-needed guidance and advice. If you've been with the company for more than six months, it will be difficult for you to view your data objectively because you will have become part of the culture. If weaknesses or problems exist within the organization, chances are you are contributing to them. Bringing in someone you trust who can take a brutally honest look at your environment will help you see the reality of your surroundings and may save you from missing the big issue that you'd rather not see.
This other person will help you with your methodology to make sure you haven't omitted anything important in the development of your analytical tools and look over your shoulder to ensure you don't ignore important environmental information because of your built-in and unavoidable cultural biases. That objective third-party viewpoint will provide you with the perspective you need.
For example, The Performance Engineering Group (PEG), which was brought in early on in the process to analyze the cultural makeup of Rockwell Collins, performed a similar analysis regarding e-learning readiness for a well-established company directly supporting the commercial and general aviation market. The culture of this company was so engrained that its leaders couldn't see the frustration of its core customers regarding their products.
This company produced flight charts that are used in commercial, military, and civil aviation. Pilots are required to carry large sample cases filled with all of the charts they might need for any of the routes they are scheduled to fly. Over the years , the company was able to garner more than 80 percent of the market share and was hugely profitable.
The company believed it needed to deliver products electronically and asked PEG to determine if that's what customers wanted. For several months, PEG met with airline pilots to find out how they felt about using the paper charts. (The company thought the sale needed to happen with the actual airline, but our research proved that the sale should be made with the pilots themselves .) Every pilot interviewed wanted to go electronic, but because the management team at this company never talked to clients about their needs, it was impossible for them to reach that conclusion on their own.
In the course of doing the assessment, the PEG team interviewed a number of the key players at the company. They were startled by the self-image senior executives had about their business. It was completely at odds with the reality of the marketplace . For example, the senior vice president of marketing believed that the only thing about the company's culture he would change would be to hire more pilots ”even though the company was a publisher of third-hand public information, and most of the tasks within the company involved working as a draftsman or a printer. Their parent company was a publishing company!
And, while interviewing the vice president of production, we asked him if the company ever surveyed its customers. He replied that they didn't do anything formally , but they spoke informally to airline executives whenever they were at an industry function. He was actually stunned when we suggested that their real customers were airline pilots, not the airlines themselves.
The management team had no idea how frustrated end users were with its paper-based products because they never communicated with end users ”the pilots ”beyond the point of sale.
As a third-party surveyor , PEG spent a relatively small amount of time asking seemingly relevant and obvious questions that garnered a wealth of valuable data about customer opinions . On their own, because of their inability to look outside the confines of their own experiences, the company's executives might never have discovered this information because it wasn't in their process to ask those questions.
The vice president of production had been working for this company for fifteen years, and the culture hadn't allowed him to objectively look at the market forces at play. He agreed that our perception was accurate and began taking steps to find out what pilots thought of his company's products.
The bottom line is that the flight chart company had a very powerful culture and always promoted from within. Outside ideas weren't allowed into the corporate thinking, and, as a result, the management of the company suffered from an inability to objectively view how its company really worked. The management team had serious issues well beyond its readiness to adopt e-learning. As we're fond of saying, they'd been drinking their own bath water for far too long.
Regardless of your industry or cultural makeup, a third party can add perspective to the project. That doesn't mean that the third party should be sitting by your side day and night as you make your plan. Call this person in when you need guidance or to evaluate the assumptions you've arrived at. Get your third party's help on surveys or analysis if those are your weak points. Bring this person back as you implement your strategic plan to be sure you are staying on track. The important thing is to find someone you can rely on who doesn't have a personal agenda to sell you an end product of his or her own. This is why we hired The Performance Engineering Group ”it didn't have any product to sell other than its experience and honest assessments.