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Riquard V Dvliet

OCAI helps Ericsson work on a High Performance Culture

  • 06 January 2011
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Ericsson is working on establishing a "High Performance Culture". This doesn't mean blindly chasing ambitious targets and handling the whip, but establishing the right mix of elements to optimize the organization's performance. Riquard Van der Vliet, an executive at Ericsson's R&D department in the Netherlands, shares their story using the OCAI. "Handling a whip will not get you high performance. You need to balance competing needs."

"We have a staff of 150 in R&D", Riquard tells. "We were looking for a way to operationalize the High Performance concept. We've been discussing it without a model, but then the conversation goes in all directions. So I was very pleased to find the Competing Values Framework: it is such a pragmatic grid. I enjoyed reading Cameron & Quinn's book as well. The OCAI gave us the language and the reference to work on our corporate culture."

Balancing competing needs

Like any high tech corporation, Ericsson outsources a lot of their production, but the knowledge, skills, attitude and behavior of individual employees define a huge part of the added value in knowledge-intensive services and products. As a multinational company Ericsson is always hunting for innovation in a very competitive, volatile market but needs cost-reduction at the same time. If you want to stay innovative, your possibilities of reducing costs are limited. A High Performance culture provides the right mix of these two contradictory or competing tendencies.

Riquard used the OCAI to find out what employees thought to be their best mix of culture types. He explains: "High Performance culture is not equal to Market Culture in the OCAI-grid. HiPo also involves innovation and employee engagement, intrinsic motivation, creating new things. Research on employee satisfaction and engagement found that once people earn their rent or mortgage (the basic needs in Maslow's pyramid), they will get satisfaction from Autonomy (doing your work in your own way), Mastery (getting better at it) and Purpose (adhering meaning to work and contributing to society). So if you're just pushing targets and handling a whip, you won't achieve high performance at all. Reality is much more nuanced and that is also what our culture survey showed. It aligns beautifully with the CEO's principles."

Ericsson's core values read like this: Innovate.Everyday (Adhocracy Culture), Customer.First (Market Culture), Speed.Quality (Hierarchy Culture) en Empower.Action & Perform.Team (Clan Culture). It's a balanced mix of the competing values that you need in everyday business life.

Profiel Ericsson ETB/RB

Ericsson's preferred High Performance Culture

Looking at their assessment outcome, it's remarkable that R&D staff rate their current workplace as Market and Hierarchy culture. Shouldn't they be much more innovative as an R&D department? Riquard explains: "Ericsson is market leader in the field of wireless communication. We have a strong focus on efficiency and production against the lowest possible cost. That is implemented in all our operating procedures and processes. But indeed, we need to open up, because the market demands it."

So Ericsson's biggest desired shift is to Adhocracy Culture: focused on learning, development, creating new things, innovation and professional autonomy. Staff votes for less Hierarchy Culture. Employees see the preferred High Performance culture as a nice mix of 4 culture types.

Doing the OCAI Workshops

Riquard van der Vliet is a technically educated executive manager. He wasn't trained for "people-stuff" as such but he guided the OCAI-workshops to analyze the results with employees himself. "The culture profiles provide a sound basis to start working on change. The OCAI-model is pragmatic enough and easy to explain to people. Using the associated Work Kit, you can develop your own workshop. I also like to keep it simple. You can explain the culture types to the shop floor with a metaphor. I just bought a tandem bike to take my two sons biking. Hierarchy Culture is: Agreeing on rules to bike safely with the three of us on one bike. Market Culture is: We're going to bike 30 Miles. Adhocracy Culture is: Experimenting how you can bike with a double bike trailer. Clan Culture: We're a team and we'll support each other when we get tired."

Riquard did several workshops with R&D staff up to now. "I've spent the time analyzing, interpreting and creating consensus and a deep understanding on how we currently work and what our best mix of HiPo Culture would be. How do we specifically work in the new situation? I don't want to jump to actions too fast. People prefer fast action but I think it's important that the meaning first has time to settle in. Then, I'd like to combine our preferred HiPo Culture to individual talents and competencies. So, I'd like to coach employees on their strong points and not focus on what they should improve. The question is: Given your competencies, what is your contribution to our new HiPo Culture? I'm using Marcus Buckingham's books for this."

Focus on Management Roles and Competencies

To the workshops, Van der Vliet added exercises from Robert Quinn's book "Becoming a Master Manager" that connects management roles to the culture types, and Quinn's book "Deep Change: Discovering the Leader within" that states that you first have to change yourself in order to change an organization. In this process you'll encounter your own fears, courage and resistance.

Last but not least, Riquard feels very inspired by the Dutch book by Hans Woppereis. Unfortunately, this is not translated in English yet. Woppereis shows various ways how organizations "fall asleep" and adapt to their environment, stopping to be aware and getting used to business as usual. His typology of cultures is interesting (the complainers, the sacrificers, the performers, the power-addicts and so on) so we might discuss that some other time.

So what Riquard also likes about the OCAI is that it's easy to combine with various models and techniques that are appropriate and inspiring to your situation. This enthusiastic Ericsson executive can't wait to continue on the action plan to change his department into a balanced, effective High Performance Culture.

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