Culture Change Part II – Identify your Culture

Culture Change Part II – Identify your Culture

James R. McCarthy, MS, CPC

Word Count: 688 words
Time to Read: 1-2 minutes

This is the second in a series of articles from Wolf Management Consultants, LLC on Changing Organizational Culture.  The first article examined the concept of the “Social Contract” and Culture, and their extreme importance during times of organizational change.  In this article, we will address a number of ways to identify the culture in your firm.

The first step in changing or affecting your culture involves understanding the culture you have.  Once you gain a deep understanding of your present culture, you can look at long-term business strategies and goals and decide to what extent (if any), your culture may need to change.

Just as structure and design may be viewed as the skeleton and muscles of the organization, culture can be seen as the firms’ “heart”, or core.  This culture consists of shared assumptions and values that shape partners, associates and employees behaviors and help them understand the firm and their place within it.  These assumptions and values are established over time by both formal and informal leaders. They are displayed and derived from such things as heroes, tales, and customs and present a powerful set of forces that are enduring, deep, and broadly accepted.

A strong culture is one in which attitudes and standards are widely shared and strongly held.   Such a culture offers many advantages, including:

  • Collaboration - Shared values enhance goodwill and mutual trust, encouraging teamwork.
  • Decision Making - Shared beliefs and values lead to more efficient decision making, since there are fewer disagreements about which ideas should prevail.
  • Influence –A strong culture serves to influence “right” actions.
  • Exchange of ideas - Agreement on beliefs and values facilitates enhanced communication.
  • Dedication - Strong cultures foster strong allegiance to the firm. 

Successful culture change requires an integrated process involving not only modifications of cultural elements, but also may include corresponding steps involving leadership; communication; behaviors, and even structural changes.  That is, successful culture change cannot occur in a vacuum.

There are a number of proven methods to help you in the first step of understanding your culture:

  1. Culture Audit - A "culture audit" can help assess the culture that currently exists in your firm.  An effective firm culture audit describes the overall working environment; identifies the unwritten standards and rules governing all interactions and workplace practices; determines possible barriers to effective work routines and communication, and may make recommendations for addressing identified problems.        
  2. Organizational Character Indexing – Built upon the Myers-Briggs © personality types, a law firm's character can shape how decisions get made, new ideas are received, how people are treated, and whether change is accepted or rejected - all factors that affect firm performance.        
  3. Culture Surveys - A law firm culture survey is a way to take the pulse of an firm's culture.  A culture survey can be a powerful tool to better understand the shared values that underpin performance, as well as to identify culture related areas for change.        
  4. A newer and interesting method involves using both leader and organizational Preferences and Motivations as “lenses” into cultural components – ultimately, people have to want to make the change, and you need to know how change is best received or implemented in your firm.         
  5. Still other methods include: Observation; Interviews of colleagues and clients; Focus Groups, and Examination of mission and vision statements.

By gaining a clear understanding of your present culture, you will be able to make judgments regarding your desired culture and how to create it, based on both objective and subjective data.

The next step, actual culture change, typically begins at the top of the organization, either from your Managing Partner, or from his or her Leadership Team.  Changing culture in any meaningful way is a very difficult task; and a topic we will discuss more deeply in the next “Wolf in the Workplace” article.

At Wolf Management Consultants, we can help you navigate the uncertain and dangerous waters of culture change.  We have a variety of programs and processes, as well as a staff comprised of only very seasoned and senior practitioners.



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