Tag Archives: culture

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

System Thinking in the Organization: Tracing Flows of Power, Information and Influence

As we’ve covered here and elsewhere, the mental models we hold of the organization help to shape our thinking, if not our behaviors. Models are deeply woven with the culture of our workplace, not to mention the personal mindset we bring to work. Models tell us what works, and who we are. As an organization, do we value open communication, or adhere to strict communication conduits up/down the chain? Is it ok to try and fail, or must we play it safe? Are we expansion/growth oriented, or defensive? Our mental images shape what we think about our organization, and fundamentally shape our view of our place in it. In short, they define the workplace as a container.

But what about the critical flow of resources and information inside that container? Are there models to help us understand how and why things happen internally?

The short answer, of course, is yes.

System Thinking offers numerous models that describe how critical resources flow in, out and through the workplace. Resources such as power, influence and rewards .. not to mention information itself .. move through organizations in interesting and important ways.

System Thinking, like Complexity Thinking, is a new way to look at how things work. It’s a move away from simplified, piece-meal, cause-and-effect models where one solution fixes one problem. Most systems are inherently complex. So work in the complexity space looks at a much broader set of interactions that are inevitably in play: environmental variables, resource constraints, inter-dependencies, feedback loops, and the very important impact of delayed feedback. Factors like these are usually left out of reductionist models, where problems happen in a hypothetical vacuum. Intuitively, a complex systems view can move us closer to reality than simplistic formulaic constructs.

At #orgdna for 2Q16 (April-May-June), in our monthly 90-minute Twitter Chat, we are going to tackle Systems Thinking. As we do, we will start to see why some organizations thrive while others fail, often while having similar structure, resources, and leadership methods.

To get started, let’s tee up a few of Systems Thinking’s foundational elements, taken from Meadows and other readings.  This will give us a toolkit for subsequent #orgdna chats.

  • Q1. Key #systemthinking concepts include stocks, flows, and feedback loops; how can these improve our understanding of the org? 
  • Q2. Helpful #systemthinking metaphors: (a.) bathtub (b.) checking account (c.) thermostat. Which are most useful in #orgdev?
  • Q3. Let’s explore #systemthinking archetypes for orgs:  (a.) escalation (b.) tragedy of the commons (c.) diminishing returns. Where to focus?
  • Q4. Can we isolate (a.) element inventory (b.) relationships or (c.) purpose/function as a primary #orgdev focus? #systemthinking
  • Q5. What are limitations/challenges for #systemthinking in the practice of #21stcorg and #orgdev in general?

I hope you will join us MON 4/18 at 10pm ET, as we take on these important and exciting topics.  Much to learn, and much to discuss.

For the best, most interactive experience, log-on with Twitter using TweetDeck or a similar app, and follow hashtag #orgdna.  We’ll see you online!

Chris aka @sourcepov

Further reading:


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)

Unpacking Diversity in the Organization: Implications for Critical Thinking

When we chat with co-workers and friends, it’s no suprise that different backgrounds among those in the group can enrich the conversation, introducing a depth that is difficult when everyone speaks from the same perspective. This is the notion of diversity in social interaction. It’s the case against echo chambers and group think.

But I think we should also ask: How deep does this go, and what are the forces at work?

Thanks to Jamie Billingham for teeing up 3 diverse perspectives on this:

  • Ev Williams (@ev of Twitter fame, now CEO of Medium) talks on the importance of ‘identity (or cultural, or gender) diversity’ to drive healthy, balanced discourse within a company [read more]
  • Scott E Page (a professor at U.Mich with expertise in emerging field of complexity) talks about the academic basis for diverse thinking [read more]
  • Jamie (a fellow #cdna collaborator, @jamiebillingham) offers the alternative of cognitive diversity, expanding on the others with an eye toward the implications [read more]

Add it all up, and there’s a strong case for all aspects of diversity in our organizations, as it shapes our collective mindset and influences our culture. The need may be most acute when it comes to deeper, more analytical thinking in groups.

At one level, it’s intuitive. People thinking differently generates more ideas.

To me, what’s NOT as intuitive, especially in the critical thinking context, is the importance of establishing such diversity in our organizations and teams, and the difficulty of sustaining it. Among collaborators, the forces of commonality create a comfort zone that often trumps diversity. Sameness is simply easier to manage. What are some of the factors that can make ‘nuturing more difference’ easier? Let’s have a look:

  • Q1. Types of Diversity. Why do sociology and psychology portray diversity differently? Which view is more common?
  • Q2. Recognizing Difference. We often work alongside others like ourselves. Do our shared filters and behaviors mask diverse views? What is the leader’s role?
  • Q3. Paradigm Blindness. Kuhn wrote we often can’t see past our own professional or world views. Does embracing diversity change this?
  • Q4. Managing Diversity. What are the most difficult challenges to overcome?
  • Q5. Culture. When and how does culture enter in?
  • Q6. Are there more Frames of Reference? We’ve focused so far on two major views: sociology and psychology; are there more?

As input to Q6 and to fuel a deeper dive on how we think and how we filter, consider the following graphic from The DNA of Collaboration, Chapter 3.

Shifting Frames of Reference.  Disciplines that introduce cognitive diversity, based on different paradigms of how things work, how problems are organized, and where we focus.

Shifting our Frames of Reference. Disciplines that influence cognitive diversity, based on different paradigms of how things work, how problems are organized, and where we focus.


Let’s discuss in our next #cdna chat, Monday 4/20/15, at 10pm ET.

Most every 3rd Monday evening a group of collaborators comes together at hashtag #cdna for a conversation on the dynamics and potential of critical thinking. Join us. We’d love your input.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Innovation Within Our Sphere(s) of Influence:

The first point in any decision to change is a realization or recognition there is a need; that is to say, we have deemed our Present Condition to be Unacceptable. Ideally we have quantifiable measurements, and that may not be the case. We then envision a Future Condition which is forecast to be desirable.

Having decided we want to bring about this Future Condition, a Plan of Action is developed and implemented. There are a number of variables to be considered, sets of terms which drive the type of activity. The combinations of these variables are not fininite; however, they need to be understood and the impact examined. We can look first at the two broad categories (these are depicted in the attached Chart):

  1. Adoption which results in Change; and,
  2. Innovation which leads to Transformation.

These terms are defined as follows:

  • Adoption: The use of a different method from that which is in current use;
  • Change: Substitution to become different;
  • Innovation: Changing the established in favor of new methods or ideas (in use for the 1st time);
  • Transformation: Resulting in new composition or structure; thorough and dynamic.

Joseph Pine II in his 1999 book “The Experience Economy” describes the transformation of the economy from: Agrarian to Commodity to Service to Experience. The logic and support is quite clear and leads us to understand economies are dynamic. I was able to hear him speak a number of years ago where he noted his understanding of the next stage in the evolution of the economy. Pine described the Transformation Economy.

In the Experience Economy a vacation to Paradise Island in the Bahamas is exactly what it is intended to be: a wonderful experience. The time and expense meet the requirements of our expectations; however, we exit the same as we entered. Two weeks in the Colorado mountains at a retreat that focuses on exercise, diet, and mental health is intended to cause us to “take better care of ourselves” following that event – we anticipate a Transformation.

For final consideration: Spheres of Influence. There are five binary spheres in-play giving rise to complexity of combination. These spheres are:

  • Ourselves | Others  – (Personal reach);
  • Present | Future  – (Time horizon);
  • Direct | Indirect  – (Intensity of Action);
  • Individual | Group  – (Extent of reach);
  • Actual | Virtual  – (Network involved).

We accept the general need to change or become irrelevant. Adoption may be the course for organizations and individuals in most circumstances – applying “tried and true” methods to achieve the desired condition. When is Innovation the better choice?

Proposed Questions for the chat scheduled for January 19th, 2015:

  1. Adopt to Change and Innovate to Transform; Correct or other categories?
  2. What are our Spheres of Influence?
  3. Is there a way to determine if Innovation is better that Adoption?
  4. Can we utilize Pine’s Transformation Economy concept to build a biz model?
  5. What happens when the Desired State forecast proves inaccurate?

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts and discuss them with each of you!Innovation.3