Category Archives: culture

Culture Unraveled: The Semantics of “Purpose” .. a Tale of Many Threads

After 3 lively #orgdna chats on culture since August, you’d think we’d be out of things to talk about. Yet the opposite is true. The more we discuss, the more we find to discuss. Each chat opens new ideas and new threads for exploration.

In discussing patterns of culture, we spent much time on semantics. Vivid concepts like “power” and “fear” often fought with broader and more abstract notions like “purpose” and “ethical behavior” that more of us would prefer to aspire to. This particular thread from friends & contributors Mark Britz and Bruce Waltuck rung especially true as I reread the transcript.

Like Wittgenstein, I’ve always been a stickler for care our word choices. Last month we talked quite a bit about somewhat abstract notions that get appropriated for nefarious agendas, good words like collaborationtransformation and even values.  I believe it was Noah or Jim who commented on purpose needing to be saved.

But it occurs to me that a change agent has little more than relationships and words to drive transformative change. The ability to inspire a team to action based on common ground requires that we shape that common ground carefully. What do we seek to accomplish? What are the hurdles? What can we all agree to?  There’s a fine line between manipulation and inspiration for the change agent, who, in my view, needs to alter semantic interpretations at the edges to create a coalition. Facts are facts, to be certain. But abstract ideas leave room for interpretation. A skilled change leader helps shape that agenda, recruiting all the while.

So what ARE the skills of a change agent? What must happen for them to become masters in undestanding and navigating “attractors of meaning” as Bruce noted last time, in the tweet above? Let’s discuss.

  • Q1. Define “attractors of meaning” in the cultural context
  • Q2. How does a change agent build common ground when everyone has their own semantics? a diverse cultural lens?
  • Q3. Utlimiately, what are the skills of a change agent?

Here’s an aggregation of our recent #orgdna culture transcripts, with a participant # and a tweet # for each:

We are slowly unravelling the tapestry of organization culture. We’ve got planning threads open in both Twitter dm’s and Slack. Lmk if you’d like to join us there.

Hope to see you !! MON 11/14/16, at 9pm EST.  Should be another great one.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Cultural Patterns in Org Design: Can specific elements mark our Path to Success?

Loved the ideas circulating during and after our September 19 #orgdna chat on the “Price of Growth” (transcript here).

We talked about the downside organizational impact of scale, namely, the loss of close relationships and nimbleness enjoyed when a company is new and small. Some of this, we concluded, is just driven by access. More people. More connections to make. Less time to get everyone in the loop.

But we also concluded a culture shift can also be tied to the changing nature of relationships and a shift of focus. I especially loved this comment by Mark Britz on this:

In our 10/17 #orgdna, let’s discuss several patterns of culture that will impact success as we seek to design and enhance how our organizations work.  It’s a focus core to organization effectiveness, key topics for OD and HR practitioners across industry groups.

We’ll include Mark’s input on a “social” archetype (Q1) and a few others surfaced historically by Charles Handy (Q2-Q5) and more recently by Jon Husband (Q6). Here’s our outline:

  • Q1. Discuss Social archetype. Seen where collaboration embraced. Values relationships. Other characteristics?
  • Q2. Discuss Command archetype. Seen in military & the CEO’s office. Values loyalty.
  • Q3. Discuss Silo-expertise archetype. Seen in Fortune 500 & Academia. Values consistency.
  • Q4. Discuss Network archetype. Seen in customer service and ER’s. Values learning.
  • Q5. Discuss Practitioner archetype. Seen in SMB. Values independence and flexbility.
  • Q6. Discuss Wirearchy-connecting archetype. Evolving. Where is this likely to work? Similar to Q1? Q4?

Our virtual think tank has been at this since 2012.  Four years and going strong.

Hope you will join us, 9:00pm ET for the chat, 8:30pm for the pre-game. Just add #orgdna to all your tweets at the appointed hour. We recommend a streaming Twitter app like Tweetdeck, so you can see the full conversation in real time.

Looking forward.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


The Price of Growth: Losing Our Edge, and the Impact(s) of Org Culture

We’ve all seen organizations change as they’ve grown. This is a part of any group’s natural evolution. With scale organizations encounter new demands, acquire new talent, and find ways to navigate the many new relationships that form. But what is lost in the process?

What are the forces that cause us to lose those advantages that entrepreneurs and small businesses hold dear?

Is an organization’s culture part of the answer, or part of the problem?

Important ideas are circulating here, very much aligned with our past few #orgdna conversations on cultural forces. Major thanks to #orgdna member Mark Britz for his recent blog post that’s helped us frame this topic. We’ve been viewing organization change and culture through a system thinking lens, to help us understand the dynamics. Along the way, we’ve started to apply a complex systems overlay to the dialog, to help us understand the interactions that happen with large groups.

Now we focus on the impact of scale.  Let’s take a look at some of the forces.

Span of Influence.  First, its worth reflecting that as organizations scale, the number of relationship multiples rapidly. The communication among leaders and members that is possible when very small starts to break down with growth. So intermediate sub-leaders are appointed, and specialization of roles and functions begins. There is a natural evolution of complexity as small organizations get larger. This challenges any leader to rethink their approach and processes, on all management topics ranging from motivation to communication to strategy setting.

Cultural Loopback.  Second, it helps to understand culture is both an emergent outcome of an organization, while at the same time providing a set of guiding principles back to that organization as it evolves.  That means culture is both influencing and influenced by the people that make it up. If that sounds complex, it’s no wonder. Linear cause and effect forces don’t work in large groups, because the dynamics are so intertwined as to make outcomes unpredictable. It’s why leaders usually struggle to drive transformation agendas. It’s why culture change is so difficult.

But this is just the starting point. Expanding relationships and the 2-way dynamics of culture are only two forces that occur with growth. There are likely many more.

In our M 9/19 9pm ET chat, let’s exlore the implications, expanding on some of Mark’s questions:

  • Q1. What are additional drivers of change, with growth? What else influences how an organization culture changes as it scales?
  • Q2. What signals change? How can we know culture change is happening?
  • Q3. Must we lose our edge? Can the benefits of small (e.g. being nimble and low-cost) survive inevitable growth that comes with success?
  • Q4. What must Leaders do? Complex forces can be paralyzing. What can/should leaders do to accommodate healthy growth and healthy culture?

Our group is a loose band of change-minded thinkers. We come together virtually and rekindle these discussions every 3rd Monday at 9pm ET. Simply add the #orgdna hashtag to your tweets, and join the conversation. We recommend a streaming app like Tweet Deck for the best real time experience.

From there, the rest is up to the group. The conversation will flow where you help us take it. It’s almost always a lively exchange. And watch for a PDF transcript here, after our chat, courtesy John Lewis of Holosoft.

Hope to see you online.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

 


Culture Change, the Dilemma of the 21st Century Organization: Can Leaders Keep Up?

How do you develop a culture that embraces and enables change? Leaders and executives are continuing their search. In fact, the dilemma of culture has been much discussed in the press, even before IBM’s Lou Gerstner took the challenge head-on in the 1990’s. He said IBM’s culture was the single biggest challenge facing the company’s gut-wrenching transformation from hardware sales to services. The company needed to rethink itself. The culture needed to change.

There are many challenges to unpacking the culture of an organization, because it is not well-defined or easily influenced. Drucker called in ‘amorphous’. There are no specific levers to be pulled, or scripts to be followed. Culture is the result of how an organization has evolved. It can be defined like this:

Culture is the set of beliefs and values that emerge when a group of stakeholders have interacted over time. They influence it, and are influenced by it. It is how the group models success, and the ground rules for survival.

With that frame, the challenge is clear. Convincing an established group that the rules have changed doesn’t tend to work, at least not on the first few tries.

The problem is further complicated by a broad lack of understanding. Most haven’t been exposed to the prevailing theories from an organizational development (or “OD”) perspective. If Drucker is right and culture resists definition, do we dare look further?

Not to challenge Drucker, but in this case, I say ‘yes’.

While no model is perfect, the theories put forward by two respected leaders in the OD space have stood the test of time. Let’s have a look at them here, so we might better understand the dilemma of culture change:

  • Edgar Schein advanced a model that cultural forces operate in layers, where beliefs and values effect us in different ways at different times, but all of them operating together. As examples, he mentioned our citizenship, our ethnicity, our professional training, and our gender, all operating in tandem with our workfplace culture. The values and behaviors passed down among each of these affinity groups play a role when we respond to a an issue, make a decision, or challenge the status quo.
  • Charles Handy is known for 4 discrete cultural archetypes, each operating in organizations, sometimes side by side with one another, but having unique properties. With 21st century forces in mind, I adapted Handy’s 4 archetypes just slightly into the categories of Command, Role, Network and Practitioner. I created a visual some years back to recap and expand on Handy’s model.  I’ll include the graphic here.
Four Types of Organizational Culture, from Handy (1993). "The DNA of Collaboration" (c) 2012.

Four Types of Organizational Culture, from Handy (1993). “The DNA of Collaboration” (c) 2012, Chapter 10, Fig. 15.

As we unpack the forces of culture change in the 21st century, we should keep Schein’s layers and Handy’s 4 archetypes top of mind. They help us understand what’s at stake.

With that as background, let’s discuss the 21st century implications, with overlays of complexity and our recent focus on systems thinking. We’ve been talking about the dual dynamics of structure and flow in the organization. This conversation should advance our thinking in all of these areas.

Here’s a discussion frame for our next #orgdna chat:

  • Q1. Layers. How do the Schein’s layers of culture interact during times of transformation? How do they effect the structure?
  • Q2. Archetypes. Can you confirm any of Handy’s 4 archetypes in organizations you’ve seen? Are they at times at cross purposes? Which archetype maps to the modern silo?
  • Q3. Network. The network model has proven well-suited to learning and adaptation. Is it necessarily the path for the 21st century organization? Does it model structure, or flow?
  • Q4. Scale. Does scale necessitate the Role/Function model, or is there another approach?

I hope you will join us Monday, August 15, from 9-10pm ET, as we discuss the Dilemma of Culture Change. Just sign onto Twitter at the appointed time, and use hashtag #orgdna in your tweets to join in the conversation.  We recommend a Twitter streaming app, like Tweetdeck.

It’s always a lively conversation. See you there!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Additional Reading


Foundations for 21st Century Leaders: Learning to Navigate Culture Change

Let’s face it. People are hard to influence. We are complex creatures, difficult to predict and downright impossible to control.

Large groups of such people only serve to compound things. Insightful leaders know this, or at least sense the immensity of the challenge. It can take years to achieve significant organizational change, if it ever happens.

New on this front is the topic of social complexity. It’s an appreciation for the many variables in play that hi-jack simple “cause and effect” strategies. As an example, say we decide to give a cash bonus to everyone who behaves in a certain way. Some will play. Many will not. But leaders will often rehash the carrot (or stick) strategy in efforts to change the organization’s behavior.

Eventually leaders tire or the bonus money runs out, and they move on to other battles. Or other organizations.

True change in an organization requires a deep appreciation of the complexity dynamic. We must setaside cause and effect thinking, to instead look at what can be accomplished when we view the organization as a network of social connections, people interacting, seeking to be accepted, seeking to learn and to grow, often in spite of the odds. Let’s attack the important topic of leadership in the context of culture change from a fresh angle. We’ll take the complexity view, and see what we uncover.

We teed this up initially 10/19, but let’s keep the focus here, as we dig deeper. Our chat on MON 10/26 from 9:30-11pm ET will use this frame:

  • Q1. Connections. Does thinking of a #21cOrg as a network of social interactions help us understand the #complexity forces at work?
  • Q2. Environment. How do initial conditions in the #workplace influence the opportunity for #orgchange to take hold?
  • Q3. Fundamental Rules. Can we identify a few specific, simple groundrules that leaders can embrace to #leadchange?
  • Q4. Edges. Does change at the edge provide new thinking on how leaders might look at #21cOrg change strategies?

I find culture change to be both fascinating, and in the right conditions, possible. No doubt it is a difficult journey. But leaders must understand people and social dynamics to drive change.

Carrots and sticks? Leave them for building snowmen.

The #orgdna community generally meets every 3rd MON 9:30-11pm ET. We use the #orgdna hashtag to compare notes and ideas, and we’ll publish a transcript right here on this post afterwards. Join the conversation. It’s a lively crowd, perched on a corner of the internet that’s prone to providing insights .. a great place to learn about learning.

Join us !! Hope to see you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov, Charlotte NC US.


The Fallacies of Control & the Quick Fix: On Culture and the Complexity of Organizations

Anyone seeking to change an organization has known the pitfalls of trying to control behavior and motivation. Setting goals and expectations is not so hard. One-off wins tied to an event or a compelling speech can move the needle. But execution over the long-term .. including any lasting, sustainable change in thinking .. is another matter.

Ask Lou Gerstner, the man who moved IBM from hardware to services in the 1990’s, who said:

Culture is not just one aspect of the game, it IS the game.

I’ve always seen this as a fundamental breakthrough, a wake-up call for change the modern organization. Yet leaders will routinely, if not obsessively, plod through short-term ideas for long-term results, without ever seeing the fallacy. What’s missing is an understanding of how people in groups behave, and the implications that complexity has on an organization.

I won’t try to unpack all that here.  Frankly, it’s enough to fill a book (or two), and the subject of some in-depth posts. But for the sake of discussion, let’s establish a premise:  people in organizations are driven more by a need for belonging and conformity with group aspirations, and less by draconian measures to direct, incentivize or otherwise control it’s members. In this light, culture can be defined (if loosely) as a set of groundrules for survival, based on what has worked in the past.  New leaders and programs come and go.  But the memory of groups runs long and deep.

Try changing the minds of an organization on how things work. Ask Lou Gerstner.

For our #orgdna chat on MON 9/21/15 from 9:30 to 11:00pm ET, let’s tee up the conversation like this:

  • Q1. If we can’t control behavior or results, what CAN we influence? Does environment play a key role?
  • Q2. Why do organic ways of thinking (forests, ecosystems, viruses) provide rich metaphors for understanding people in groups, and org culture in general? 
  • Q3. What can leaders try to do in the near-term to impact the long-term?
  • Q4. Can a culture be changed?

The #cdna community of thinkers became the #orgdna community last month, to better describe and focus our dialog.  I think we’re off to a great start. Evidence?  When one chat among a few of us creates enough ideas for 2-3 more chats, imagine what can happen if we keep going, learning as we go, even as we expand and diversify our group?

Please join us. The conversation gets more lively with more ideas in play. And lord knows we enjoy a lively conversation.

As always, thanks for stopping in.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Possibility and the Connected Thinker: On Hashtags, Change & the Cultural Imperative

For people to connect, they need a space to come together. It must be a distinct place, familiar to those who gather there and welcoming to visitors who may have the chance to join. Visualizing such places in the world of brick and mortar is not difficult. The corporate conference room. The town square. The coffee shop. The water cooler.

In the context of internet spaces, we must rely a bit on our imagination to craft that common space. We might use blog sites like this one on wordpress .. which we refer to as our “framing site” .. to post our ideas and frame problems to be solved.

Twitter is where we talk it out. And that demands a versatile hashtag.

The #cdna community, with this site as it’s home base, is finalizing a new hashtag for the next 3-years of conversation. Why 3 years? It makes the decision important enough to invest some time, and transient enough to allow for mistakes. On the internet, of course, nothing is permanent. Our current tag “#cdna” is 3 years old this month. As discussed last month, it’s time for a change, a new hashtag that’s more intutive in describing what we’re about. But in spite of some ambiguity, something manages to bring us back each month, bridging conversations with insight and energy, going beyond simple social media aquaintance.

Part of the equation is personal relationships, no doubt.

But another part is harder to define, because it is more capability or capacity than a tangible action. It is a breeding ground for ideas.

We might to choose to call it possibility. It’s what happens when thinkers come together, bringing a small but willing supply of insight, energy and a little focus.

To date, #cdna dialog has been about organizations at large, including how they seek to tackle change, and how they contemplate learning. It may seem a broad set of brushes, but we’ve used the rich palette of our experience to help us paint (re-paint, and paint anew) the complex problems and possible solutions that face leaders of all industries, spanning for-profit and non-profits alike, taking on the large and the small, the global and the local. For complexity theorists, a strong thread of social complexity is at work here.

Bruce and Alice said it well earlier this week, helping me define the kind of community we are talking about:

On Monday, 8/24, at 9:30 p.m. we will bid adieu to #cdna the hashtag, and finalize our go forward nom du chat from a small list of alternative finalists:

  • Q0. Which hashtag best represents #cdna interests for the next 3 years? #orgchange (or #orgchg) #orgdna #futureorg (or #futrorg) #21cOrg #nextorg (we’ll accept these and other nominations from the virtual twitter floor, but these have provided the most traction so far) ..

Care to vote on this? Try this poll, courtesy Poll Daddy:

With new hashtag in use, we’ll embark immediately on our next conversation: the notion of “Cultural Imperative” using the following frame:

  • Q1. If “Cultural Imperative” is a firm conviction that an org must have and embrace a healthy one, where do we look for it? #culture
  • Q2. How do we define culture beyond a collection or roll-up of behaviors? #strategy
  • Q3. What can happen to organizations when culture is ignored? #leadchange
  • Q3. Can leaders improve and/or shape their organizational culture, and if so, how? #leadership 

Note the crossover tags listed. These may prove important in the conversation, as we seek to further contextualize our ideas and their impacts in broader, related domains.

More on culture? Have look at my original 2010 org culture series.

Ok. Hashtag change is ambitious. Brands are rarely if ever able to pivot and survive. Can an online community pull it off? Let’s give it a go. We will continue to meet each 3rd or 4th Monday of the month at or around 9:30pm ET, to afford our west coast members a chance to get home at 6:30pm PT.  We’re still trying to solve for the global chat equation. Stay tuned on that one.

For now, we’ll look for you Monday .. let us know your hashtag preferences !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)