Cultural development LO13737

Birren, David E (
Tue, 27 May 1997 14:06:06 -0500

This is a story about change in a governmental organization - nothing

I had a most interesting - and rewarding - experience last week. I
presented a proposal to my agency's senior management group that
recommended creating a team of middle managers that would focus on
developing and integrating the components of our management system. This
covers such organizational processes as strategic planning, program
evaluation and performance measurement. Their response was quite
positive, and my job is now to work with them to create the team and get
it started. I expect to be coming to the learning-org list from time to
time for advice on leading an organic work/advisory group in the midst of
a hierarchic environment.

Next on the agenda was a proposal to take the same approach to cultural
change, i.e., set up an advisory group to help managers work with cultural
issues (also something I'd been involved in). After some conversation,
several managers expressed their discomfort at dealing with the subject in
a structured way. Eventually they turned the proposal down and asked that
an informal group be available as a resource for them and their
subordinate work units as we continue redeveloping our organization
through sharing visions and improving systems. Several of these
high-level managers said that leading and facilitating change activities
is part of the nature of managerial work. This left me nearly dizzy with
validation - in rejecting a proposal to bureaucratize the work of cultural
change, these managers went beyond it and reinforced their commitment to
and sense of stewardship of the organization.

There are two very encouraging aspects of culture that are worth pointing
out here. In the distant past (5-10 years ago), this group was known to
dismiss proposals brought by staff, without much reflection. In the
recent past, however, they do not make such decisions lightly. As
individuals, the members have always been considerate people who value the
motivation of their subordinates; for some reason we are now seeing group
behavior that reflects personal values. The other observation has to do
with the agency head. He is a highly controlling person who has shifted
his style from active control to facilitating conversation, drawing out
differences, and resolving conflicting views - without losing any of his
authority or status.

I share these little moments of organizational life as examples of a
traditional command-and-control governmental agency that is bumping along
down the road of the learning organization. Change is happening, and we
are learning from it to promote further change. I must say I'm proud to
be part of an organization where it's happening.


David E. Birren
Organizational Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Ph: 608-267-2442, Fax: 608-267-3579

"Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know' and thou shalt progress." -- Maimonides

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