What is the right culture for your organization?

fungal culturesThrough a Twitter link to Future Changes, I came across Ana Neves' thoughts from last May on The Right Organisational Culture: A Requirement? in relation to knowledge management initiatives within organizations.  Should you wait until the culture is in place?  Build the culture as part of the initiative?  Give up if the culture isn't amenable to your vision?  Here is her comment:

Every organisation wants to have the right culture. Unfortunately, few organisations have it. Addressing the culture first is going to take a long time and, as Suarez says, organisations cannot afford that sort of time nowadays. So my advice is: “go for it”. Tackle the organisational culture as part of your KM strategy.

You have to be careful with "culture" discussions because they can lead you down some strange paths.  But in the end, I think that the Vision companies have for themselves is heavily tied to their Values / Principles.  The Values describe how an organization (or individuals for that matter) does things - the culture.  And the how gets tied back to the day-to-day activities an organization engages in.  This is where the change needs to happen: make sure that the day-to-day stuff links back to the values and vision of the organization, particularly when making a change in the way you operate.  What culture do you want?

How do you do that?  There is research showing that incentive schemes do not work (such as described in this Dan Pink talk at TED).  And giving people a new tool or process without changing the work simply leads to more and more overload.  Here are some thoughts to point you in a new direction - these apply to more than strictly knowledge management.

  • What was the old way of doing things?  What benefit did it have?  What drawbacks did it have?
  • What is to be the new way of doing things?  What benefit does it have?  How does it overcome the drawbacks of the old way?  What are the drawbacks of the new way?
  • What are strategies for overcoming the drawbacks of the new way?
  • How did you know you were successful in the old way?  How will you know you are successful in the new way?  Will this measure the right things?
  • Ana Neves suggests looking at the performance appraisal system as one important element.  Is it built to reward the behaviors and values that are important to the organization?  Does the appraisal system accidentally drive the wrong behaviors, and as a result, create a conflict for people?

These questions might sound familiar.  They are related to the "rules for technology" from Goldratt's Necessary But Not Sufficient (described here).  I've adapted them a few different ways, but the ideas under them make a lot of sense.

[Photo: "fungal cultures" from petrichor]

2 Comment(s)

Nothing beats Schein for understanding culture and working with culture in organisations. (see his book organisational culture and leadership)

Given that I taught at the Learning & Organizational Change program at Northwestern, you would think that I had read Schein. But I haven't. Maybe it's time to crack that one open (and find it first).

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