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Culture: Old and New Assumptions

January 10, 2011 3 comments

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.

The Awesome Power of Pull, Part I.V

October 29, 2009 1 comment

In the first post setting up for the discussion of Pull, I mentioned that in this second post I was going to go over the personality type that represented the modern push-oriented individual.  I think I’d like to stop for a second and before I do that clear something up.  After reading the first post again, I realized that I was focusing rather negatively on the current situation in Command and Control (C&C) at the large scale, only exploring the weaknesses.

I want to make sure that everyone understands that C&C is NOT inherently a bad structure or framework for an organization.

It is when the extremes of C&C are taken as the only way to structure an organization that we really start to see the brittle and inflexible nature of this organizational structure.  Here, for the benefit of later discussion, is a table which fairly shows the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the C&C hierarchy:

Strength Weakness
Highly Efficient Rigidity Against the Unexpected
Conserves Resources Requires Complete Theories
More Predictable Outcomes Environment Must be Ideal
Easily Measurable and Transparent Shuns Innovation and Invention
Logically and/or Reasonably Defined Can Ignore Hidden Risks
Repeatable Tendency to “Break Big”
Plug and Play Models / “One Size Fits All” Black and White
Highly Productive Doesn’t Handle Complexity Well
Doesn’t Require Practice
Knowledge Based

I want to ensure everyone gets this simple fact as well:

C&C is a human-made tool just like a hammer or a wrench is a tool.

In this case it is a tool which organizes people and resources into a management framework.  Using a certain tool for a certain job can yield more effective results.  It only makes sense that we start looking at the emerging organization as needing a more elegant tool to organize people and resources.

I like to tell my friends at Syntience:  You can use a hammer to drive a screw into a wooden board, but it is much more elegant to use a screwdriver.

The Awesome Power of Pull, Part I

October 22, 2009 1 comment

In the post  Catastrophic Forgetting, I mentioned that there are some very big brains working on creating new strategies for businesses and the economy at large.  The ideas presented by these folks centers around the concept of the Big Shift.  Though I am not a strategy professional, per se (Read, I don’t want to learn the old stuff, because it is quickly becoming useless.), I tend to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat when it comes to information.  The authors of the Big Shift idea, John Seely Brown, John Hagel III, and my “internet friend”, Lang Davison have hit on a description of a new way of living within uncertainty with which I cannot help but agree.  If you are a business professional, I suggest you read up on the Big Shift and furthermore read up on the meaning of Edges and Cores.  Mmmmmm…That’s good n’ tasty heresy.

For the purpose of this post on Pull, I am going to start by introducing some terms that will grease the wheels in later posts.  Here’s the first, which can be considered the opposite of “Pull”.  Here’s a brief introduction to “Push”:

Command and Control

So many of us run around existing in frameworks and don’t even know it.  Many of us are blind to the fact that these frameworks are designed to support a current worldview keeping power in our organizations flowing in a specific direction.  In the case of Command and Control (C&C), absolute power is held by those at the top.  You see, C&C exists in it’s current “2BIG2FAIL” mode for a few reasons:

  • The military originally created C&C and soldiers “trained” to always follow orders to ensure objectives were met according to orders issued
  • The railroads adopted C&C not only to keep tight control over train schedules (no crashes = good), but also to keep coal moving to centers of production
  • Just like coal, the flow of oil can never stop so C&C models were again adopted as necessary to ensure productivity nationwide
  • When the modern business structure was created for service and office workers, oil and coal became capital or “resources” and tons of models popped up to ensure conservation of resources through creative control mechanisms

Why did people think (and many think to this day) that C&C was such a great idea?

In my next post, I will delve into the “mechanical worldview” (which is currently clinging for life) in the context of Push v. Pull which I hope will simply answer the question above.

And who are the mechanical worldview believers?  These are the folks that still think the world can be explained neatly.  That everything can be contained and defined.  And that people are machines too…Self-interested sociopaths, only seeking resources selfishly.  We are rapidly finding this not to be the case…

To be continued!