more on: norms

Intel and the Slow Culture Reset

+ Kari Kohn

Although startups are a good way to change norms, there are examples of existing organizations successfully morphing and resetting culture.  In the corporate world, Intel, is an example. Alexis Madrigal’s latest piece in the Atlantic explores the challenges facing Intel’s leadership (and specifically CEO Paul Otellini) as the company strives to remain successful an industry characterized by constant change.  Historically, Intel’s leadership has been able to articulate a vision and then shape firm culture around the vision. Adapting a corporate culture to a new vision is never easy. Intel’s success in doing so may stem from a leadership team that understands the dynamics of company norms and the role of management in shaping them.

Some people seem to think someone else could have done better. And it’s nice to believe in the transformative leader. Call it the Fire-the-Coach Fallacy. Sometimes, installing a new leader of an organization leads to better performance. But far more often, as some simple Freakonomics blogpost would tell you, we overestimate the importance of changing the coach or the CEO. It’s not that CEOs are not important, but the preexisting conditions within and surrounding a company are just more important.Unlike a lot of leaders, Otellini seems aware of this fact. “Intel’s culture is blessedly not the culture of a CEO, nor has it ever been,” he told me. “It’s the Intel culture.”

The difficulty for Intel relative to a startup is its ability to make changes quickly. In the near term, the challenge will be in mobile.  Here is an exchange between Madrigal and Otellini:

“How well do you think Intel is thinking about ultracheap?” I asked.“Oh they got it now,” he said, to the laughter of the press relations crew with us. “I did this in ’05, so it’s [been more than] seven years now. They got it as of about two years ago. Everybody in the company has got it now, but it took a while to move the machine.”It took a while to move the machine.

It will be interesting to see how Intel fares during the next era as Otellini hands over the reigns to his successor, Brian Krzanich, who has been with Intel since 1982.

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