How to Measure the Cultural DNA of Your Company

When Yahoo appointed Marissa Mayer as CEO, it wasn't her gender or pregnancy that made it relevant, it was her product expertise. What does your CEO bring to the table and how should IT support that goal? If you don't know, you should.

When Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new CEO recently, the news got a lot of attention. Yahoo's Chairman Fred Amoroso called Mayer the perfect choice because of her "unparalleled track record in technology, design and product execution."

But in the flood of commentary and reaction that followed, the remark that really caught my attention came from Netscape co-founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. He said Yahoo hired a "product-centered CEO" in Mayer rather than going with interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, who Andreessen considers a "sales-centric CEO."

That insight fascinated me because it drills right down to the core of what a company wants to be and how well its culture supports that. In every industry, there are successful companies approaching the market with different business philosophies and cultural makeups. In the technology market, for example, EMC is known for its sales culture; Google and Microsoft for their engineering cultures; IBM and HP for their operational cultures; Amazon for its supply-chain culture; and Apple for its design and marketing culture.

Stop and think: What is the cultural DNA of your company?

That's an especially important question for CIOs to answer and understand. It helps you define what IT must deliver to be viewed and respected as a business partner. Yet one of the unsettling things I noticed earlier this year in our State of the CIO research was that 48 percent of you said your business peers thought of the IT organization as a cost center or service-delivery organization. Given the solid results IT has delivered since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, I was surprised by how high that percentage was.

With your IT organizations doing some of their best and most transformative work in the slowly recovering economy, how can half of you still be seen as cost centers or service organizations? Perhaps the answer lies in a mismatch of cultural DNA between IT and the CEO. For instance, an IT organization that delivers amazing technical solutions would be highly valued in an engineering culture. But if the company has a sales culture, the business executives won't be impressed.

So, what's your corporate DNA and how much does it matter to IT? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so drop me a line anytime.

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