Friday, April 26, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities (errrr cultures)

Having had the pleasure of serving as Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications Director at two premiere contractors, I can see the impact culture has on the workforce. One size doesn’t fit all. I have been involved in marketing communications assignments for other A/E/C clients, but it was the eight years I spent at those two firms where I got to see up close and personal how important corporate culture is to an organization. Both firms have enjoyed remarkable success. Both are places where people have enjoyed long, prosperous careers. Both have cultures that are reflections of their founders.

The former is very focused on one building type. They want to be the premiere designer and builder of hospitals in the U.S. They have worked on (if not completed) more than 1,000 projects on hospital campuses across the country. The later is more diverse. It counts among its areas of expertise, the ability to design and construct large warehouse/distribution facilities. It isn’t the building type that defines these two firms, however.

The hospital builder is closely held and tightly controlled. This company’s founder occasionally points out, with a chuckle, that he and Fidel Castro came into power at the same time -1960.  The other firm is more collaborative and is open to growth via strategic business units (SBUs) and more flexible on choices among a variety of project delivery methods. Both companies are among Engineering News Record top contractors year after year, and both offer employees opportunities to work on projects of which they can be proud.

Neither is fully good or evil. Both organizations have strong points. Both places offered me opportunities to present powerful stories of expertise, processes and best practices. In both cases, I found editors willing to publish stories of success in design and construction. Interestingly, the stricter/more rigid culture has its perks: a formal work schedule with no more than an hour for lunch usually means rational work hours most days. The later, on the other hand, allows people the flexibility to participate in industry functions/events and get an early start on holiday vacation time and time off for family which can mean some disruption in scheduling/planning at that firm.
The point, if there is one in this posting - Culture is important. There is probably more than one right answer. There are always trade-offs. If you are in the C-suite, you might be in the best position to set the tone and think through the implications.

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