Aligning Culture

Aligning Culture


Culture matters, according to Ed Schein, "...because it is a powerful, latent, and often unconscious set of forces that determine both our individual and collective behavior, ways of perceiving, thought patterns, and values. Organization culture in particular matters because cultural elements determine strategy, goals, and modes of operating. The values and thought patterns of leaders and senior managers are partially determined by their own cultural backgrounds and their shared experience. If we want to make organizations more efficient and effective, then we must understand the role that culture plays in organizational life."

Yet, the biggest danger in trying to understand culture, according to Schein, is to oversimplify it in our minds. It is tempting— and at some level valid—to say that culture is just “the way we do things around here,“ “the rites and rituals of our company,“ “the company climate,“ “the reward system,“ “our basic values,“ and so on. These are all manifestations of the culture, but none is the culture at the level where culture matters. A better way to think about culture is to realize that it exists at several “levels,“ and that we must understand an manage the deeper levels.

In addition, Daniel Denison at the University of Michigan, has studied the impact that organizational culture can have on performance and effectiveness over time, particularly, that there is a close relationship between the culture of an organization, its management practices, and its future performance and effectiveness. Denison's research indicates that the values and beliefs of an organization give rise to a set of management practices that then reinforce the dominant values and beliefs.

Our approach to cultural alignment and change is grounded in both the qualitative approach suggested by Schein and in the quantitative approach to measuring performance effectiveness as developed by Denison.

The Research Shows

-Research involving over 2,000 companies indicates that effective organizational cultures, regardless of organizational size, industry, sector, or age, achieve results by unleashing the very best that the individual has to offer (Involvement: internal orientation which enhances flexibility),

- within the framework of a vivid direction (Mission: external orientation which enhances stability),

- with systems to support efficient and quality delivery of products and services (Consistency: internal orientation which enhances stability,

- while being continually open and responsive, both to its many stakeholders, and to new paths and possibilities in this highly changing world (Adaptability: external orientation which enhances flexibility).

Denison, D.R. (1990; 1994; 1996); Denison, D. R. and Mishra, A. K. (1995); Denison, D. R. and Mishra, A.K. (1996); Denison, D.R. and Neale, W.S. (1996); Fisher, C. J. (1997)

What do we mean by Culture?*

(The visible structures, policies, practices and processes. What you see, hear, and feel when you go into an organization)

Espoused Values
(What the organization “says” it believes to be it's values, strategies, goals, and philosophies.)

Basic Underlying Assumptions
(The unconscious, taken-for-granted, outside-of-awareness beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.)

Culture Change — the Bottom Line

  • Culture can be assessed by means of individual and group interview processes.
  • Culture cannot be assessed by means of surveys or questionnaires — they do not say anything about the deeper values or shared assumptions that are operating.
  • A culture assessment is of little value unless it is tied to some organizational problem or issue. Diagnosing a culture for its own sake is not only too vast a problem but also may be viewed as boring and useless.
  • The process should first identify cultural assumptions and then assess them in terms of whether they are strengths or constraints on what the organization is trying to accomplish.
  • The process should be sensitive to the presence of subcultures and prepared to do separate assessments of them to determine their relevance to what the organization is trying to do.
  • Culture can be described and assessed at the levels of artifacts, espoused values, and shared tacit assumptions. The importance of getting to the assumption level derives from the insight that unless you understand the shared tacit assumptions, you cannot explain the discrepancies that almost always surface between espoused values and observed behavioral artifacts


Leadership insights in your inbox.

Nationally acclaimed speaker

International bestselling author Jeff Wolf is now available for your next meeting, conference or convention to provide a high-energy presentation filled with strategies and techniques attendees can immediately apply to improve their skills.