unify culture

One of the realities, and many would say opportunities, in healthcare today, is consolidation. Consolidation comes in many forms. Financial consolidation, operational consolidation, brand consolidation, etc. This post will focus on cultural consolidation.

Cultural consolidations come in many forms and orders of magnitude. A cultural consolidation can be as simple as two different departments, or groups of workers, coming together as a merged department under a new shared leader. Today, in healthcare, many cultural consolidations are the result of mergers of one large healthcare organization into an even larger healthcare organization for a variety of competitive reasons. In some cases, these consolidations can impact tens of thousands of employees and caregivers.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

It was consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker who is credited with saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This bold statement points to the true and sometimes subtle power of culture and its impact on all the grand plans developed by business leaders.

But what gives culture this strength? The secret is in the actual definition of culture. A culture is a shared set of beliefs that drive behavior. That’s a short, but powerful definition. Let’s break it down. If culture is indeed a shared set of beliefs that guide, drive and impact the actual behavior of those in the organization, then we can quickly see the importance of those core beliefs being aligned with the necessary behaviors to deliver the business strategies of leaders. Without that alignment, you are facing at best, a long and difficult journey, and at worst, failure of your strategy. In fact, this contributes to the failure of 50-75% of change efforts.

Ways to Unify Culture

So, if culture is as powerful as it seems, and consolidation is a modern-day reality of various aspects of healthcare, how can diverse cultures be brought together in ways that build momentum, rather than sabotage results? This is a complex topic but here are some initial ideas to ponder.

Provide A Voice
When bringing a variety of groups together into a unified culture, it is critical that all the members of the new group feel they have a voice in the process. There are many ways to accomplish this, but allowing everyone to feel heard will begin dissipating the resistance that nearly always comes with change.

Focus on Belief
We tend not to behave in ways that are counter to what we inherently believe. When unifying cultures, focus on belief before behavior. One drives the other. Focusing on the cultural beliefs of the new consolidated entity will encourage alignment of the new group at a contextual level first. It is then much easier to align on desired behaviors that represent those beliefs.

Focus on Similarities Rather Than Differences
When bringing multiple cultures together it is very natural to look for how they are different. Instead, look for where they are the same. Look past the specific words that have been used to define the previous cultures and instead look for similarities in the underlying beliefs. We took this step on a recent project, and when looking through that lens, it was easy to see areas of existing alignment rather than differences. This provided a natural foundation on which the new culture could be built.

Know What Serves the Organization
When beginning to explore beliefs and behaviors, stay present to what is going to best serve the future of the organization. Business is always changing, and creating a unified culture is an opportunity to refine core beliefs to align with the needs of the future rather than what worked in the past.

Make It Real
As the new unified framework emerges, do a reality check. Is it authentic? Do aspects of it actually live in the organization that can provide evidence of the authenticity. Cultural aspiration is good, but make sure you are grounding your work in something that will resonate with your team.

For other thoughts on culture, you might enjoy these articles:

Five Key Elements of Company Culture

Getting Real About Culture: Five Truths to Consider

About Kurt Kennedy

Kurt founded Kennedy Communications in 1988 as a media production company. Since then, Kennedy Global has evolved into the leading internal-external brand alignment agency. Kurt and his team create strategic business solutions that align a company’s external customer promise with an engaged internal culture that generates tremendous results at every level of an organization. Kurt and his team have created strategic programs for some of the world’s most recognized brands including Intel, Nike, Office Depot, Starbucks, Albertsons, Adobe, Dell, LensCrafters, Target Optical, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Unilever and many others. In addition to consulting with clients, Kurt frequently serves as a speaker and facilitator at a variety of business events around the world including strategy sessions with executive leadership teams, interactive workshops and training sessions at corporate summits, and keynote presentations at industry events. Kurt earned his BA in Mass Communications from Walla Walla University. He enjoys traveling in his spare time.