Tag Archives: change

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


Rethinking the Silo: New Designs for Structure and Flow in the 21st Century Organization

In our monthly #orgdna chat, we’ve been discussing the future of the 21st century organization. Some have begun to rethink what is possible. Some have argued, as I have, that leaders should orchestrate their organizations rather than trying to control them, embracing more collaborative models for getting things done. Why?

In short, dynamic models account for the need for organizations to respond to change. Adaptability is a requirement. And resources (e.g., information, people, funding) must be allowed to flow across department/functional boundaries when and where they are needed.

Sadly, silos remain predominant. It’s what everybody is used to. It’s the 100-year-old factory model still being held up as the handbook for modern business. Think about any bureaucratic organization you’ve encountered. They are built in silos that sub-optimize elements at the expense of the whole. They embrace standards, at the expense of change. And perhaps worst, they are virtually programmed to survive.

The good news:  there are some alternative ideas and models in play that set out to change the rules, topics that are worth a deeper dive. So let’s have a look.

First, lets revisit our path:

  • In April, we looked at system thinking (link) as a means to model the structure and flow of the typical silo-based organization, to identify bottlenecks and counter-productive motivators.
  • In May, we deconstructed the silo (link), looking at specific reinforcing flows that create problematic influences, beyond our best intentions.
  • Now, in June, it’s time to look at silo improvements, exploring alternatives to challenges and gaps we’ve identified.

Let’s start with a picture to get us thinking, a visual prompt for ideas that can be complex and abstract when left to words.

Here’s an excellent image offered by a regular #orgdna contributor, Valdis Krebs. The concept of Wirearchy (more) was first coined by Jon Husband in 1999. It is a useful model to explore the alternatives to the organizational silo:

With reflection on this picture, we can resume our Q&A, a dialog on silo factors and alternatives, informed by the Wierarchy idea and fueled by system thinking. Let’s consider ways for:

  • Q1. Restoring Critical Feedback. Adaptation depends on a critical feedback loop, and in silo’d orgs this is often blocked. What new mechanisms could allow feedback to flow across and within silos?
  • Q2. Freeing/Reallocating Critical Resources. We’ve all seen hoarding of financial and human resources within silos produce a negative outcome. What can be done to prevent or discourage this?
  • Q3. Solving Fragility for Resilience. We’ve learned silos that hone deep expertise are fragile or obsolete when demands change. 21stC forces demand adaptability; organizations are seeing shifts in their markets and technology base; operating units must learn to function under new rules. This can be the most daunting kind of change of all. How do we foster adapability and a new resilience?
  • Q4. Optimizing for the Whole. The classic negative silo-driven outcome is optimization at the department or component level, while hurting the larger organization. What is needed to circumvent this self-defeating path?

As we discuss alternatives, let’s continue to use system thinking as a guide. What forces are at work? What controls are increasing, decreasing, or blocking the flow of critical resources? How might these be influenced?

The #orgdna community meets monthly on organizational learning and leadership, typically 3rd MONDAYs at 10 pm ET. Simply sign on to Twitter at that time, and use the hashtag #orgdna to follow the conversation. If you can’t attend, the transcript will be captured in PDF form and linked in a comment to this framing blog post. Prior transcripts are available in a similar fashion, as comments on the respective monthly post.

It’s always a lively exchange. All are welcome. We hope to see you there.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Unpacking Transformation: What are the Critical Building Blocks?

Everybody knows. The only constant in today’s world .. and in today’s organization .. is change. More and more, however, it is transformative change. Not the gradual, barely visible, frog-in-boiling-water variety. It’s gut-wrenching change, change that that leaves you in a completely different place than when you began.

Like the farm house carried from Kansas to Oz, transformation is about a fundamentally new perspective.

Transformation is the stuff of paradigm shifts.

Organizations are complex, highly integrated things, and they’re generally quite strong when it comes to survival. But that strength makes them resistant to new rules. So transformation is always difficult .. whether the mission is to restructure the workforce, enter new markets, redefine a brand, or successfully merge existing companies.

What does transformation require? Each of the above examples begs the question. Fundamentally, at the highest level, there must be people who are focused and committed to getting the hard work of change done, in spite of predictable .. and quite logical .. reservations. So we need to unpack the necessary drivers. What are the motivators? What must leaders do?

We’ve used the metaphor of building blocks in the past to take apart complex topics, so let’s use it here. What are the building blocks of Transformation?

  • Q1. Open & Pervasive Communication. How much is enough?
  • Q2. Leaders Who Care. When does supervision transition to coaching and/or serving as mentor?
  • Q3. Trust in Those Leaders. Can we know when it’s safe?
  • Q4. Owning the End State. Is it possible for an entire organization to find common ground?
  • Q5. Freedom to Take Risks. So often, risk in business is against the grain. How do achieve something that is so often preached against?
  • Q6. Willingness to Learn. How does an entire organization learn?
  • Q7. Time. Do we have the necessary patience?

Please plan to jump in. We’re still finalizing the frame, and we’d love your input.

Also, we’ll plan to post additional Transformation-related topics and sources here, as a reference point, to energize & further inform our discussions:

For 2016, the #orgdna community is launching a quarterly theme framework, so that 3 successive chats can be used to build perspectives in one specific area of organizational dynamics. We have added a new #orgdna agenda page as the preliminary guideline for the year .. think of it as our editorial calendar .. but expect it to change, as we learn more together.

We hope you will join the conversation every 3rd Monday at 10pm ET, 7pm PT. Simply use the #orgdna hashtag to connect with participants, inquire on the topic, or participate in the chat itself at the appointed hour. It’s always a lively exchange. We hope you will join us!

Chris aka @sourcepov     Charlotte NC


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)


Dialog for the 21st Century Organization: A Focus on Culture, Change and Learning

AMG152695b WeaveI had a fascinating exchange Saturday morning with Panteli Tritchew and Ken Gordon, sparked by a response from Mike Itzius. It was a spontaneous twitter chat (sometimes called ‘async’) that sparks from a tweet or two, aided by twitter-enabled phones with alerts on audible.

We brainstormed a few threads that run through the modern organization. Even in our short dialog, it was clear: there are so many interrelated threads, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s been a challenge for #cdna too, as it’s long been for leaders.

Where does change in an organization begin?

Since mid-2012, a group of us have chatted on these topics under the concise but obscure #cdna hashtag. The tag was short and sweet and it served us well. But with conflicting use now among genetic scientists and stock market traders, we need a new moniker.

In our impromptu Saturday chat, we touched on organization development (“OD”), change in general, and the various aspects of learning that weave in and out of these sometimes academic topics.

We didn’t mention, but have in the past, culture, the forces of social complexity, knowledge management (“KM”) and of course, the overarching umbrella of leadership. Those topics often get woven into our chats. Together, they are the fabric (resilient or otherwise) of the 21st century organization.

Add all that up and it’s one whopping hashtag.

But we must find a new one. A hashtag to focus the conversation must foster freedom and independence of new ideas. We can tap other tags (and their stakeholders!) as specific topics afford. I’ve found #orgchange #orglearn and #orgdev all have links back to individuals or corporate initiatives, and some great content. Tags like #leadership and #change need no introduction. We just need a twitter place to call our own.

What do you think? Here are some Q’s to help us sort it out:

Q1. Org Change – the action or the destination?
Q2. Org Leader – the critical catalysts?
Q3. Org Development – the practice and the mission?
Q4. Org Learning – the capacity .. & the missing link?
Q5. Org Complexity – the game changer (if we explain it?)
Q6. Org Culture – the ultimate enabler?

I hope you can join us MON 7/20 at 9:30p ET, 6:30p PT. We’ll take on each thread one by one, to see what kind of magic we might weave. By the end of the chat, we should have clarity on our new hashtag. Until then, we’re still #cdna ..

See you online!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


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