Home > HR and Org Dev, Strategy, Strategy Shift, Unlearning > Culture: Old and New Assumptions

Culture: Old and New Assumptions

Lately, I’ve been trying to get a bead on culture and the effect culture has on Project/Technology ROI and Implementation Cost.  The research I have uncovered suggests something very striking.  What I mean is that most, if not all, of the Culture Assessment tools I examined have a specific view point.  That viewpoint is simple:  That if you interview people with a certain list of questions, you can come to find the culture of your organization. The results are  graphs, charts, and definitions.  At the time I was examining these products, I had no problem with them.  As time went on, I came to realize that there might be something missing.

On the surface, these methodologies seem like magic.  I could see why they sold.  But as I thought about it and reflected on my experience in corporate consulting, I came to a  conclusion…

Most of the methodologies out there right now really don’t take the whole of their organization into consideration.  They just think they do.

Interestingly enough, they claim to give the whole picture of the culture of the organization supported by their results, but I don’t believe they have been very successful up to this point .  In my opinion, this is what the current Organizational Assessments promise to show you:


 

Business As Usual

Current Presiding Cultural Viewpoint

Here’s the kicker: This view commonly says there is ONE culture that describes 100% of the organization.  That the whole of the organization has the same culture.  I’m not sure that this is an accurate depiction of what is really going on in reality.

My position on why this occurs? Most culture assessments methodologies come to this conclusion is because of four main factors:

  1. Leadership is most often interviewed in a culture assessment which creates a bias.
  2. There is no cross-pollination of information before the survey results are tallied.
  3. Employees (and people in general) are trained and conditioned to assume culture is a top-down mandate.
  4. The current dominant POV is that culture is bound by the borders of the organization.

Well, I have news…Good news for some and maybe not for others.

Leadership, while it has influence, does not a culture make.

You see, there is another reason for organizational strife, bad ROI, silos, and poor project management in general.  It is not just competition for scare organizational resources. It is also the competition between various, border-less, and unconstrained cultures vying for survival and influence.  Cultures do not stay within departments (or even organizations)! Assessing only leadership’s perception of culture does not give a clear picture of how software, process, or procedure should be implemented.  Each culture has its own way of integrating new information in the form of technological change and a more successful implementation team will understand and put this into practice.

Mama mia!  How ever will we sort through this mess?

A More Realistic Cultural Viewpoint

What we really have in an organization are nested cultural nodes, or simply “Pocket Cultures“, which are all interacting in a very complex way.  Through this interaction, the true organizational culture emerges.  Some Pocket Cultures, like personalities, can be dominant in the organization.  This does not mean the dominant culture is the correct one.  It is just the one that uses strategic means to keep its position as dominant.

So, what does all this mean?

  • Current organizational assessment tools are most likely ill-equipped to deal with a reality which takes this complex cultural interplay into consideration.
  • Executives can expect a higher adoption rate and ROI if they understand the concept of Pocket Cultures.
  • Implementation Project Managers should lead with an assessment of Pocket Cultures to find the best entry-point into the organization, giving them a much higher success rate.

Well, that’s my rant.  I can see I have a lot of work to do on this idea.  I’ll bring some of the big brains I know together to mull this over.  Firstly, I will will be working on developing an assessment which takes pocket cultures into consideration.  Everything after that is a hazy future-fog, but I bet you that it is fun out there!

For more on Organizational Types, see: Organizational Types or Wikipedia.

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  1. bee
    January 10, 2011 at 2:21 AM

    Leadership and associates in organizations have no dogmatic view of what culture is or is not. The idea is an academic one. The idea that there is one culture comes from elite professors claiming to bring the truth to the masses.

    In my years as both a consultant and executive I have never observed a leadership that thought their was one culture within their company. Many saw several that followed functional and/or geographic lines. It was under the direction of the experts that they came to see one culture.

    • January 10, 2011 at 3:02 AM

      Bee, I love it.

      The institutionalization of organizations has been a stumbling block for real change to happen. Especially since the so-called “experts” include the consulting organizations themselves. Part of what I am trying to do here is remove that view. It is high time that we stop looking at our organizations as mechanical, physics-based entities and begin seeing them for what they really are…Another emergent layer of life itself.

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. January 13, 2011 at 1:26 AM

    Superb posting, I share the same views. I wonder why this particular world truly does not picture for a moment like me and also the blog site creator 😀

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