Destroyed By Your Own Culture

by Jay Deragon on 09/04/2012

“If you have been trying to make changes in how your organization works, you need to find out how the existing culture aids or hinders you.” Edgar Schein, professor MIT Sloan School of Management

The single most important performance issue for the 21st Century organization is its culture.  You know, it is that soft fuzzy stuff most rough and tough managers aren’t willing to consider. Yet in an open and connected world if you aren’t cognitively aware of the impact your culture has on performance it can and will destroy you.

Many organizations delegate the management of their culture to HR. Doing so says culture is a task to be delegated rather than an ecosystem to be built and nourished.  Building and nourishing is the fundamental duty of management and leadership. However in most organizations management and leadership spend very little time building and nourishing rather they spend most of their time chasing yesterdays mistakes.  And they wonder why the organization has difficulty moving forward.

Do You Know How To Build A Culture?

Steve Denning, writes at Forbes “How Do You Change An Organizational Culture”Changing an organization’s culture is one of the most difficult leadership challenges. That’s because an organization’s culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions.

The elements fit together as an mutually reinforcing system and combine to prevent any attempt to change it. That’s why single-fix changes, such as the introduction of teams, or Lean, or Agile, or Scrum, or knowledge management, or some new process, may appear to make progress for a while, but eventually the interlocking elements of the organizational culture take over and the change is inexorably drawn back into the existing organizational culture.

To build a better culture you have to understand  the current culture, which includes elements such as organizational rituals and routines, processes, power structures, organizational structures, control systems as well as stories and symbols.  Then leadership must define the “Ideal Culture” (i.e., what the organization wishes to be) and the “Required Culture” (i.e., what the organizational strategy demands), which is then compared to the Actual Culture (i.e., what currently exists). The analysis reveals a cultural vision that creates the elements of a change strategy.

If you believe that the single most important performance issue for the 21st Century organization is its culture then learning how to build your culture ought to be the most important role of leadership. After all, it is the culture that creates or destroys performance. Believe it or not.

{ 1 comment }

Dick Davies September 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Lordy, everyone knows will kill you after the fact. What’s unique in your approach, Jay, is taking the existing culture into account while creating architecture for the project. Of course as Theo Androus says, “It’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead.”

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