What’s culture’s affect on organizational change?

This is the sixth in a Series on Organizational Culture, its role, how it is shaped, and how it can be changed.

As a leader setting out to sponsor change, it is important to understand what that change will bump into in the organization’s culture. The more conscious the potential collisions are made the more they can be avoided.

Professor Edgar Schein a former MIT professor identified 10 factors that transmit and embed culture. They are:

  • Formal statements of organizational philosophy (mission, values, imperatives, goals, etc.).
  • Design for physical spaces.
  • Deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching by leaders.
  • Explicit reward and status system, and promotion criteria.
  • Stories, legends, myths and parables about key people and events.
  • What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control.
  • Leader reactions to critical incidents or organizational crisis.
  • Organization design and structure.
  • Organizational systems and procedures (such as its management system).
  • Criteria used for recruitment, selection, and promotion.

As a leader this checklist is useful in assessing the gap between where the organization is, how it got there, and where it wants to go. By walking through these potential collisions, a leader can significantly improve the odds of success.

What’s important in these assessments and subsequent communications about them, is to not cast judgment on the past. The past just is what it is – we can never understand the motives of people nor fully appreciate the circumstance in which things happened. If we offer criticism we set a judgmental tone – even condemnation. That approach does nothing to increase the sense that the coming change will be safe to embrace and that related struggles will not be subject to the same criticism.

As we work with customers on the Now Management System® we directly and overtly address items 1, 3, 6, and 9. But we encourage, advise and support addressing every single lever in order to ensure culture change sticks and that it delivers the business results that led to the desired change in the first place.

What are the attributes that allow an organization to make changes quickly? I’ll share some thoughts on that next week.

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