Change Implementation Techniques for Laying a Foundation for New Ways

Technique 1.21 A Way to Look at An Organisation's Culture

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. This technique is based on the work of Edgar Schein who used the terminology of "determining artifacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions" to help describe different elements of culture.

. Sometimes this technique is compared to coercive persuasion or brainwashing, as in many organisations you are asking staff to change behaviours, ways of thinking and values that they have developed and become familiar with for many years of their careers. This helps explain why some attitudes in organisations appear to be unchangeable and change is so strongly resisted.

. Resistance is a natural response to an aggressive attack against one's values. People understandably resent uninvited intrusions on their personal attitudes and beliefs.

You cannot create a new culture but you can immerse yourself in studying a culture until you understand it. One way is to ask the following questions:

1. What elements do you like about the current culture?

2. What elements don't you like about the current culture?

3. What are you going to miss in the new environment?

4. What are the elements of the current culture that would be most applicable in the new environment?

5. What are the elements of the current culture that would not be appropriate in the new environment?

6. What is required to modify the current culture to better handle the new environment?

You can propose new values, introduce new ways of doing things, and articulate new governing ideas. Over time, these actions will set the stage for new behaviour. If people who adopt that new behaviour feel that it helps them to do better, they might continue to use it. After many trials, often taking as long as 5 to 10 years, the organisational culture may embody a different set of assumptions, and a different way of looking at things. However, you have not changed the culture; you have merely set the stage for culture to evolve.

This process may sound painfully slow and uncertain compared with an alternative approach of "slash and burn" as shown by downsizing, etc. This latter approach produces a rapid cultural destruction, amid an atmosphere of crisis, with the potential for suppressed resentment and backlash. Generally, this does not create a new culture; it only destroys the old one.

You cannot detect cultural assumptions through the devices of individual inquiry, such as surveys, questionnaires and/or interviews. Cultures are held by groups, not individuals, and can only be discerned by investigating the whole group.

Be aware that your pre‐conceptions, no matter how well informed, maybe wrong. You have to be very careful about imposing your views on others. One way to keep your inquiry relatively bias‐free is to penetrate from the visible surface inward. This means looking first at the artifacts (these can be directly observed), then adding espoused values (can be revealed by questions), and only then examining the underlying assumptions (can only be inferred from a variety of observations and further inquiry around inconsistencies and puzzlement) that comprise a group's culture. As culture is a shared phenomenon, the best way to gather systematic data is to bring a representative group of up to 15 people together and ask them to discuss artifacts, values and the assumptions that lie behind them

organisational development change management

This is summarised:

Be careful that you do not mix the allocation of elements, activities, etc of the 3 groups, ie artifacts, espoused values and assumptions


These are the observable signals of the organisation's way of life. Everyone can agree that they exist, although there could be disagreement about their significance.

Environmental artifacts can be classified into 3 categories:

i) instrumental (the way the environment influences information flows, co‐worker contacts ‐ face‐to‐face, etc ‐ and organisational culture which in turn impacts decision‐making and organisational performance. Some examples include the technology used (wireless), meeting space, location (is there separation, ie vertical ‐ different floors ‐ or horizontal ‐ same floor but far apart?), etc..

ii) symbolic (what the environment tells us about team and individual workers' identities, such as status distinctions. For example, teams may have their own space with personalized objects arranged in a way that distinguishes them from other teams.

iii) aesthetic (how pleasing is the physical environment? Do the colours contribute to calm or do they convey high‐energy? Do the walls, furniture and fittings encourage optimism, or are there signs of tiredness, such as old technology, damaged furniture, etc

The following questions to help determine what the artifacts are:

When you first joined this organisation, what details struck you?

what aspects of the workplace typify to you?

the way we do things around here?

the rules?

the procedures?

the habits?

Espoused values (the organisation's rationale)

Try to establish the reasoning which underlies the artifacts ‐ what has led the people of this organisation to do things this way?

Determine the well‐articulated set of principles and values which indicate how work should be done and how people should relate to one another.

Underlying assumptions (sources of meaning and contradiction)

To understand the implications of an organisation's values and to show how they relate to overt behaviour, one must seek the underlying assumptions and premises on which an organisation is based.

Identify contradictions and inconsistencies between artifacts and espoused values. By talking through the contradictions, it will become clear that people have worked out, over time, a well‐entrenched way of working that possibly no one has ever articulated.

Every organisation has its own hidden dynamics. Using an exercise like this will bring to the surface the hidden attitudes that trigger "he can't be serious" knee‐jerk reflexes.

The following questions will help maintain a clear perspective:

1 How does your culture define truth?

(each organisation has its own assumptions about the correct way to reach a common understanding of reality)

2 What does your culture believe about human capability?

(No bounds to human capability or "go with the flow")

3 What does your culture believe about human nature?

(Theory X ‐ people are basically lazy and non‐committed ‐ or theory Y ‐ human beings are complex and are basically good and trustworthy)

4 What does your culture believe about social organisations?

(Strict hierarchical structures? The individual should sacrifice himself/herself for the good of the group as a whole? The value of individual expression and opportunity is above the strictures of any group or hierarchy?)

The organisation's culture will hold assumptions about many other things, such as the nature of time, space, authority, openness, gender differences, etc.

Deeper dimensions around which shared basic underlying assumptions form

. The nature of reality and truth (the shared assumptions that define what is real and what is not, what is a factor in the physical realm and the social realm, how truth is ultimately to be determined, and whether truth is revealed or discovered; how are data, information, knowledge and wisdom defined?). This involves understanding people's perceptions; the impact of people's own experience on their thinking; the group's preference for "elder statement" type defining truth or scientific research proving truth; understanding the role of context in language and communications plus the importance of body language (see later on in this Volume); acceptance of uncertainty and ambiguity, etc

Criteria for determining truth

. Pure dogma, based on conditioning and/or religion (it has always been done this way; it's God's will; it is written in the scriptures)

. Revealed dogma, ie wisdom based on trust in the authority of wise men, formal leaders, prophets or kings/emperors/presidents, etc (our president wants to do it this way; our consultants have recommended that we do it this way; she has had the most experience, so we should do what she says)

. Truth derived by rational‐legal process that accepts that there is no absolute truth, only socially‐determined truth (we have to take this decision to the marketing committee and do what they decide; the boss will have to decide this one because it is his area of responsibility; we will have to vote on it and go by majority rule; we agree that this decision belongs to the production department head)

. Truth that survives conflict and debate (we thrash it out in three different committees, test it on the sales force, and the idea is still sound, so we do it; anyone see any problem with doing it this way.........? If not, that's what we'll do!)

. Truth as that which works, the purely pragmatic criterion (let's try it out this way and evaluate how we are doing)

. Truth as established by scientific method (our research shows that this is the right way to do it; we've done many surveys and statistically analysed the data which shows the same results, so let's act on it; even though our survey results were incomplete, the focus group follow‐up sessions supported the findings, so we shall go ahead and do it)

Others , eg Time, Space, etc

. The nature of time (the shared assumptions that define the basic concept of time in the group, how time is defined and measured, how many kinds of time there are, and the importance of time in the culture). This involves defining time in the

past (how things used to be)

present (focusing on the immediate situation)

near future (focusing on issues, such as current profit, cash flow, etc)

distant future (focusing on issues, such as future market share, research & development, etc)

Furthermore there is a difference in sequential thinking (monochromic clock time) or synchronisation of activities (polychronic). The former involves activities following a sequence, while the latter allows several activities to occur at once (see later on in this Volume ‐ time management)

In summary,

"...Time imposes a social order, and the manner in which things are handled in time conveys status and intention. The pacing of events, the rhythms of life, the sequence in which things are done, and the duration of events all become subject to symbolic interpretation..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

. The nature of space (the shared assumptions about space and its distribution, how space is allocated, symbolic meaning of space around the person, and the role of space in defining aspects of relationships, definitions of privacy. Who gets the best view, etc?)

. The nature of human nature (the shared assumptions that define what it means to be human and what human attributes are considered intrinsic or ultimate. Is human nature good, evil, or neutral? Are human beings perfectible or not?)

In western culture, according to Edgar Schein (2004) some assumptions about human nature include

humans are rational‐economic beings

humans are social animals with primarily social needs

humans are problems‐solvers and self-actualizers

humans are complex and malleable

. The nature of human activity (the shared assumptions that define what is right for human beings to do in relating to their environment on the basis of the above assumptions about reality and the nature of human nature. In one's basic orientation in life, what is the appropriate level of activity or passivity? At the organizational level, what is the relationship of the organisation to its environment?)

Central to the Western corporate culture is

" is taken for granted that the proper thing for people to do is to take charge and actually control their environment and their fate..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

However, other cultures, such as Indigenous ones, work on the assumption that nature is powerful and humanity is subservient to it. They try to live in harmony with the environment. In summary, organisations can hold the following range of views

"...1) nature, the perceived total environment, can be subjugated and controlled (the western tradition), or 2) nature can be harmonised with (the assumption of many Asian religions and societies), or 3) one must subjugate oneself to nature (the assumption of some Southeast Asian religions and societies). Does the organisation view itself as capable of dominating and changing its environment? Or does it assume that it might coexist with other organisations and harmonise with its environment by developing its proper niche? Or does it assume that it must subjugate itself to its environment and accept whatever niche is available?..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

. The nature of human relationships (the shared assumptions that define what is ultimately the right way for people to relate to each other, to distribute power and authority. Is life cooperative or competitive; individualistic, group‐collaborative, or communal? What is the appropriate psychological contract between employers and employees? Is authority ultimately based on traditional lineal authority, moral consensus, law or charisma? What are the basic assumptions about how conflict should be resolved and how decisions should be made?)

Assumptions about relationships must resolve 4 basic elements:

identity and role (who am I supposed to be in this group and what will be my role?)

power and influence (will my needs for influence and control be met?)

needs and goals (will the group's goals allow me to meet my own needs?)

acceptance and intimacy (will I be accepted, respected and liked in this group? How close will power relationships be?)

Linked with understanding the culture is a limitation in using typologies to classify organisations such as coercive, utilitarian, normative, hierarchical, autocratic, paternalistic, consultative, participative, delegated, .....:

"...typologies can be useful if we are trying to compare many organisations but are quite useless if we are trying to understand one particular organisation......the difficulty is that within any organisational type one may see variations.......The problem is that in many organisations the subcultures conflict with each other..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

Two examples of the underlying assumptions for very different organisations

. A young dynamic organisation in the IT industry. The founding group had an engineering background; they were intensely individualistic and pragmatic in their approach; they developed a problem‐solving and decision‐making system that rested on 5 interlocking assumptions:

"...1. The individual is the ultimate source of ideas and entrepreneurial spirit

2. Individuals are capable of taking responsibility and doing the right thing

3. No one individual is smart enough to evaluate his or her own ideas......"truth" cannot be found without debate; that there is no arbitrary way of figuring out what is true unless one subjects every idea to the crucible of debate among strong and intellectual individuals; therefore, one must get others to agree before taking action.)

4. The central assumption: the basic work of the company is technological innovation and such work is and always should be "fun"......

5. We are one family whose members take care of each other (implying that no matter how much of a troublemaker one was in the decision process, one was valued in the family and could not be kicked out it)..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

These assumptions helped decipher what appeared to be contradictory behaviours, such as intense individualism and intense commitment to the workgroup and consensus; simultaneously intense conflict ‐ with authority figures, insubordination, and bad mouthing of bosses ‐ and intense loyalty to the organisation and personal affection across hierarchical boundaries.

Thus any attempt to encourage more politeness in communications would be politely ignored. On the other hand, suggestions, task processes rather than the interpersonal processes, such as agenda setting, time management, clarifying debate, summarising, consensus testing whether debate was "running dry", etc were more acceptable to the group

Furthermore, there were 5 additional assumptions reflecting beliefs and values pertaining to customers and marketing:

"...1. The only valid way to sell a product is to find out what the customer's problem is and to solve the problem, even if that means selling or recommending another company's products

2. People can and will take responsibility and continue to act responsibly no matter what

3. The market is the best decision maker if there are several product contenders (internal competition was viewed as desirable.......

4. Even as the company gets very large and differentiated, it is desirable to keep some central control rather than divisionalize

5. Engineers "know best" what a good product is, based on whether or not they personally like working with that product..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

No one assumption explains how the organisation functions; rather, it is the combination of the assumptions, ie

"...around individual creativity, group conflict as the source of truth, individual responsibility, commitment to each other as the family, commitment to innovation and to solving customer problems, and belief in internal competition and central control..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

. Another example is a well‐established research manufacturing and marketing organisation in the pharmaceutical industry. Its basic assumptions were

"...1. Scientific research is the source of truth and good ideas

2. The mission is to make a better world through science and important products

3. Truth and wisdom reside in those who have more education and experience

. 4. The strength of the organisation is in the expertness of each role occupant; a job is one's own turf

5. The organisation is one family that takes care of each other, but a family that is hierarchical and "children" have to obey the parents. Following rules and regulations is important

6. Quality, accuracy and truth are more important than speed (time)

7. Individual and organisation autonomy is the key to success so long as one stays closely linked to one's "parents"..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

. It was a very formal organisation with symbols demonstrating different positions in the hierarchy, such as different dining rooms/cafeteria for different staff based on position in the organisation; staff addressed each other with formal titles and this was further demonstrated by observable differences in deference and demeanor depending on formal position in the organisation, ie status was important; everything was carefully managed to maintain order; punctuality was important; managers came across as very serious, thoughtful, deliberate, well‐prepared, formal and concerned about protocol; managerial ranking was based on length of service, overall performance and personal background of the individual rather than on the actual job being performed; direct confrontation was discouraged and respect was shown to individual opinions especially to those in positions of authority, ie authority was highly respected, especially authority based on level of education, experience and rank; the chain of command was respected; insubordination was discouraged; the main aims of meetings were to announce decisions or gathering information and not for debating ideas; staff value their privacy to get things done.

The organisation was not keen on lateral communications between different units of the organisation, ie only supply information if it was asked for

. Both these examples had different ways of treating

truth, ie one through debate and the other through research and development

attitude to authority, ie one encouraged conflict and the other showed more respect for authority and avoided conflict

families, ie one encouraged challenging each other, irrespective of position in the family and the other encouraged respect like hierarchical parental authority where children behave and are rewarded according to rules determined by parents

attitude to time, ie one was always busy, with time "being the enemy", while the other had more patience towards time

. An organisation's culture will hold assumptions about many other things, such as the nature of time, space, authority, openness, gender differences, etc.

Focus the cultural diagnosis by using the following strategies:

. Listen to yourself explain your culture to newcomers, telling them what they have to learn to fit into this organisation

. Seek out informants ‐ thoughtful people who know sub‐cultures within the organisation ‐ and ask questions like

"...I don't understand why such and such is going on. Please explain it..."

Edgar Schein, 1999

Explore similarities and differences between your organisation and others. Ask the questions

" did this practice originate, and what keeps it going?..."

Edgar Schein, 1999

Pose hypothetical conflicts

(by talking through plausible scenarios of what might happen, you can get a better idea of what will happen when your culture is actually challenged)

Avoid unilateral interpretations

(do not impose your view on the group)

Formal intervention (initiating cultural change) ‐ use the following questions

1. What results and new ways of working do you want to create?

2. Which characteristics of the culture (especially cultural assumptions) are most likely to hinder change?

3. Which characteristics are most likely to help?

4. Finally, in order to develop the desired result,

what attitudes would have to shift?

how much of a change of viewpoint would that require from the average employee?

how much from the average manager?

how would their self‐image shift?

how would their concept of their place in the organisation shift?

Focus on the positives. It is much easier to change people by accentuating the qualities that seem close to the ones you want to promote.

People need role models and new heroes with whom to identify. Successful changes always involve the creation of new myths built on the heroic stories of the new ways of doing things.

Generally, it is hard for insiders to see their own culture's strengths and its limitations.

Culture is complex, powerful, deep and stable.


"...many assumptions around mission, goals, means, measurement systems, roles, and relationships can be superficial within the total structure of the cultural paradigm, yet very important for the organisation's functioning on a day‐to‐day basis......the deeper assumptions are not necessarily functional..."

Edgar Schein, 2004

Furthermore, there are still too many managers who have un‐examined attitudes about how to organise, who are not questioning their own attitudes and assumptions.

It is amazing how little, in organisations, we learn from our experiences. We are in a culture where mistakes are punished. Yet so much of the incoherence in organisations is because we grasp for the next solution without learning from what has just happened, or from the last failure.

Example of poor cultural fit is the IBM take‐over of PricewaterhouseCooper's (PWC) consulting business in October 2002. It was a $4 billion plus acquisition with most of the assets inside people's heads. But there were difference in pay rates, ways of doing things, procedures, etc that resulted in a poisonous relationship between the consultants of IBM and PWC. It took many years to resolve and this was helped by the departure of disgruntled PWC consultants who waited until the golden handcuffs were off and the consulting market had improved

An example of successful use of this technique is the alliance between Hewlett‐Packard and Microsoft. HP's role was to post Microsoft's exchange messaging and collaboration software. The alliance was foundering owing to clashes sparked by differences in the 2 companies' business models, culture and expertise. In fact, a variation on this technique was used to document partners' differing perceptions of themselves and as a result led them to acknowledge their many strengths and encouraged developing strategies that played to them.

How HP perceived itself

How Microsoft perceived HP

. Collaborative partnering mindset ‐ looks for the greater good

. A non‐player in services

. Reinventing ‐ trying to get more focused under new CEO's leadership

. Falling behind its competitors

. Disciplined ‐ takes a long time, mature approach to evaluating market opportunities

. Slow, bureaucratic ‐ a laggard

. Win‐win partnering ‐ actively seeks the other company's views

. Unable to execute consistently and predictably

. Flexible ‐ looks to creative deals

. Conflicted sales strategies in the field

. Competitive, fast‐moving and entrepreneurial

. Excessively competitive and confrontational

. Our products are changing the world in profoundly positive ways

. Controlling, paranoid and greedy

. Center of the new economy

. "Win‐don't care" partnering mindset

. Focused on objectives and issues and expects others to do the same

. Focused only on the deal

. Misunderstood: the world doesn't realize what positive things the company does for everyone

. Packaged‐software mentality ‐ commoditizes everything, even partnering

. Brings partners into deals, expecting they will be grateful and go get the business without continual hand holding

. Doesn't get it ‐ doesn't know what it takes to sell professional services to an enterprise customer

After joint declaration of differences, more constructive perceptions emerged

HP's strengths

Microsoft's strengths

. Have expertise related to complex‐solutions selling to enterprise customers

. Technical and product knowledge about Exchange, which is essential to successful enterprise solutions sales

. Tend to focus on long‐term objectives and opportunities

. Disciplined focus on short‐term objectives (without which there may be no long‐term)

. Good at minimizing risk in complex situations through careful analysis

. Good at capitalizing on opportunities and making decisions quickly

. In individual circumstances, likely to find creative solutions that others might miss

. Unlikely to waste time and effort when the "standard" answer or solution provides the optimal balance of performance and value

. Good at understanding and focusing on customers' means and building close, durable relationships

. Good at identifying and responding to competitive threats

(Jonathan Hughes et al, 2007)

(sources: Edgar Schein, 1999 & 2004; Craig Donaldson et al, 2003; Kimberly D Elsbach et al, 2007; Emma Connors, 2007a; Jonathan Hughes et al, 2007)


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