What is "Culture"? LO19980

Richard S. Webster (webster.1@osu.edu)
Tue, 24 Nov 1998 16:40:29 -0500 (EST)

Replying to LO19973 --

LO Colleagues -

Here are three responses to Sabine Bach's posting about culture: a "quick
and dirty" exercise that helps people to think about the culture in their
organization, and two pieces I saved from earlier postings about culture.
Hope they will be useful and generate some feedback. Note permission for
LO participants, including readers and other lurkers, to use the exercise
-- subject to providing feedback about how it worked and what you learned.
I will summarize what I receive and report to the network.

Dick Webster

Richard S. Webster, Ph.D. - President
Personal Resources Management Institute
709 Wesley Court - Worthington OH 43085-3558
e-mail <webster.1@osu.edu>, fax 614-433-71-88, tel 614-433-7144
PRMI is a 501(c)3 non-profit research, development and consulting company
founded in 1978. The Institute's R&D projects address the paradigm shift
from "training, instruction, and teaching" to "learning" -- a key change
for creating outstanding companies (and other organizations) with improved
leadership, use of information and knowledge, ideas, processes, and
quality; improved capabilities, performance, and productivity of company
members and their teams; with improvements in the "bottom-line" and other
desired results.
Thought: "Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster
and faster" says Tom Atlee. Challenges: (1) Finding and building on the
"betters," in time. (2) Learning--each person's responsibility and

- - -
Organizational Culture - An Exercise

Organizational culture is a set of common understandings; the "glue" that
holds a company together with shared patterns of meaning, values, beliefs,
behavior, and expectations; company members' common "mental models" and
"shared vision" (two of Senge's "five disciplines" of learning
organizations). This exercise is a way to think about, assess, and take
action to improve the culture.

1. Review these culture traits or characteristics. Use all 20 or select
those considered important. Add any that make sense. Number, re-sequence,
and add a numerical scale if useful.

Authoritarian (...place dots... between trait words to create scales)
Autocracy Meritocracy
Common-sense Protocol / rules
External focus (e.g. customers) Internal focus (e.g. turf protection, CYA)
Fact-based Opinion-based
Formal Casual
High control Low control
Ideas welcomed and rewarded Ideas unwlecome and resisted
Look good Do good
Open Closed
Proactive Reactive
Procedure-based People-based
Processes are fixed Improvements based on members' experience
Protective Creative
Rank and privilege Egalitarian
Risk-taking Careful / safe
Rule-governed Principle-driven
Serve customers Serve self
Top-down Work group involvement
Tradition-bound Open-to-change

2. Mark traits by considering the whole company, the department, or your
own work group. Mark "N" (for situation "now") and "D": "desired" for a
more effective and satisfying work setting that would be likely to help
members obtain better performance and results.

3. Connect scale points to create two "company culture line graphs" and
thereby display gaps between conditions now (N) and what those marking the
traits consider desirable (D).

4. Work toward improving the culture by: (a) discussing and describing the
changes needed, trait by-trait, to move toward desired conditions; and (b)
who must do what to bring about these changes? For example: learning
(what knowledge, skills, or abilities - KSAs - are needed by which
individuals or groups?), changing work processes, changing people

5. Review the changes listed. Set priorities and a timetable for making
needed changes. Two to six months is often a useful time horizon for
making the first three to six high-priority changes for improving the
company's culture and work setting.

6. Request the authority and resources for a task-group to make
high-priority changes.

Source: adapted from QualTeam, Inc. (800-680-8326): "Identify Desirable
Cultural Traits," 9/26/95

Prepared by Richard S. Webster, Ph.D. for PRM Institute. Copyright )
1998, all rights reserved. LO Network members may use this exercise, on
the condition that feedback about its use is provided to the author: fax
614-433-71-88, e-mail <webster.1@osu.edu>. Item #9810A - revised 11/24/98

*** Wed, 11 Nov 1998 - From: "John W. Gunkler" <jgunkler@sprintmail.com>,
LO19806 responding to LO19790.
I believe, from my 20 years experience as an external change
agent, that what happens to change initiatives in organizations is
primarily the result of what has been called "organizational culture." A
wonderful source of information on what to include in your model is any of
the writings of Robert F. Allen. One of the more accessible is "The
Organizational Unconscious: How to Create the Corporate Culture You Want
and Need." 1982, Prentice-Hall (ISBN 0-13-641381-1).

Allen lists these critical influence areas:
1. Rewards and recognition
2. Modeling behavior (especially, the behavior of formal and informal leaders)
3. Sanctioning (what kinds of behavior are confronted and supported, how)
4. Communication and information systems
5. Interactions and relationships (how much dignity and respect; how much
interaction with people practicing desirable norms)
6. Training
7. Orientation of new members of groups
8. Resources commitment and allocation (on what is money being spent --
important mostly as a signal to the organization)

In other places he has created similar lists that include
"recruitment and selection policies" (who is being brought into the
organization), and "supervisory follow-through" (particularly first- and
second-line managers), and "work group support" (how are working teams
organized and supported.)
Allen's key point is that what people actually do within an
organization is (nearly) dictated by the norms of that organization.
Norms are patterns of expected and supported behavior, and they are very
powerful. Without changing norms, no change effort will long succeed. I
think of norms as being part of what Jay Forrester means when he talks
about "policies" -- the decision rules that guide day-to-day decisions.
And it is "policies" (shaped by, or maybe even equated with, norms) that
form the rate equations in a Stella/ithink model.
I'll add one lesson learned: It is the norms of middle management
that determine whether any organizational change will succeed or fail.
Middle managers are the "keepers of the systems" within any organization
-- they are the ones who owe their jobs to being able to make things
happen within the existing systems and structure, so they are the ones who
perceive they have the most to lose by adopting change. Unless the norms
of middle management can be changed, no change will "take." The same is
true about central management and front-line people, but I find that
helping them change their norms is much easier than helping middle
managers change theirs.

*** Wed, 11 Nov 1998 - From: Marilee Taussig <mtaussig@netreach.net>,
LO19812 responding to LO19760.

Jerry Porras and James Collins hit the nail on the head in their
book, "Built to Last" when they say "Preserve the Core, Stimulate
Progress" --be clear about what is central and flexible about all else.
Also, highly recommended is any of Fons Trompenaars or Charles
Hampden-Turners's books. They are world-class thinkers on the issues of
helping a company distill what is universal about their corporate culture
as well as understanding how that universal finds different linkages in
each geography. I prefer " Seven Cultures of Capitalism" and "Maps of the
Mind" by Hampden-Turner, but "Riding the Waves of Culture" by Trompenaars
is perhaps a more accessible introduction to the intertwined issues of
corporate and geographic culture. The essence of their message, and
Collins' and Porras', which I would paraphrase as:
"Know what is essential to your enterprise, communicate that
message at the highest, most principled level. Keep it central in the
awareness and focus of the corporate culture in both formal and informal
ways. But put the flesh on the bones, that is, to figure how what is the
culturally appropriate application of those core values at the local
level, where the "insiders" of the local culture can translate between
corporate and local culture. For example, trust -- recently defined by
Chris Galvin of Motorola as the core value at the heart of Motorola -- has
an inifinite number of cultural incarnations. Often the exact same action
which can create trust in one culture can destroy it in another. As the
anthropologists say, 'Context is everything.'"

- - -
>My name is Sabine Bach and I am relatively new to this list. I am working
>as an inhouse management consultant with a big german Electrics and
>electronics company. One of the problems I am focusing on at the moment is
>the impact you generate in your consulting projects on your client's
>organisation. -snip-
>Soft facts could be the organization's culture.
>Hence, I am addressing culure in my thoughts. What is culture? how could
>you define culture. What do I have to address in order to change culture?
>I am looking for dimensions to define culture. -snip-
>Sabine Bach


"Richard S. Webster" <webster.1@osu.edu>

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