Culture In The Workplace – How Is It Shaped?

Have you ever asked yourself how the work culture of an organization is created and shaped? For example, why does one company encourage a “by the book” culture while a competitor in the same industry encourages a culture that thrives on collaboration and creativity?

This post will describe how work culture is created and developed in an organizational setting.  Once understood, you can better assess the impact your change initiative might have on your organization.

Work culture is formed by:
1) the unique business philosophies of the founder(s) of the company,
2) the unique set of challenges presented along the way, and
3) the unique set of solutions implemented to overcome these challenges

You can view the video below for a quick summary of these factors:

Changing The Work Culture – How Hard Can It Be?
Edgar Schein is my favorite author on the subject of organizational culture. Schein explains that organizational culture is the most difficult organizational attribute to change – outlasting organizational products, services, founders and leadership and all other physical attributes of the organization.

Schein describes organizational culture as follows:
“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (source: Organizational Culture and Leadership).

In a sense, the work culture dictates how an employee within the company should behave in order to accomplish a goal. Any deviation from the accepted way to accomplish a goal will receive resistance. A frequent outcome for an individual going against the grain will be ostracization from the group – even if they were able to accomplish the set goal.

A Practical Way To Dissect Organizational Culture
Edgar Schein explains that organizational culture can be understood at three levels: artifacts, espoused values and tacit assumptions.

1. Artifacts
An artifact refers to the visible organizational objects, structures and processes. One source of artifact is the physical layout of the office space in an organization. Employees with a superior status (i.e. executives) are entitled to a private office while the rest of the employees are placed in open cubicles. In this case, organizational authority is made visible through seating privileges.

2. Espoused Values
An espoused value can be a past solution that has been transformed into a concrete assumption, such as a consulting firm’s methodology for large-systems implementations. These values are also communicated via the company’s mission statement, philosophies, goals and strategies.

3. Tacit Assumptions
Tacit assumptions are cryptic and sometimes contradicting to what is said in public.  They are found at the deepest level of the organization. It is the hardest aspect of the culture to decipher for newcomers and outsiders. For example, a company may tout that they possess a great work/life balance in their organization; however, this may not apply in the face of looming client deadlines.  Many newcomers to an organization learn about these types of tacit assumptions by trial and error, which may lead to certain ‘rookie’ mistakes.

Understanding the artifacts, espoused values and tacit assumptions of an organization will enable you to better gauge the organizational impact for planned change. A change initiative impacting the tacit assumptions of an organization will be much more difficult to implement than a change that only affects organizational artifacts.  But then again, you may not realize that a change impacts tacit assumptions until you start the change process. Tread carefully.

How Is This Useful?
So far, I’ve simply explained the elements that shape organizational culture. I haven’t proposed or recommended any strategies for changing an existing culture for a specific purpose.  (This will be addressed in a separate post.)

In this post, I wanted only to make evident the power that the founding leaders have in shaping organizational culture during the initial expansion of the organization. As the organization grows, the work culture is further developed by all those involved with addressing organizational challenges that present themselves along the way.  As discussed, the solutions to these challenges (i.e. specific methodology, appropriate behavior, a chosen group or person to address the problem) transform into concrete assumptions with regard to how things get done within an organization.

Gaining a deep understanding of a company’s history and the challenges it has overcome will give you a better sense of why the current leaders, managers and employees behave the way they do on a day-to-day basis. Equipped with this knowledge, you can look at your change initiative through a “work culture” lens and thereby assess the impact the change will have on the way things get done in your organization.  This will undoubtedly up the complexity of your project, but it will provide you with invaluable insight.  This is where it gets interesting.

Can Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory Be Used To Motivate Employees Through Change?

In 1968, the Harvard Business Review magazine published one of its most popular articles in the history of its existence – One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?
(vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62). This article described Frederick Herzberg’s study on the elements that lead to satisfied employees and the elements that lead to dissatisfied employees. Frederick Herzberg explained his research using a two factor theory.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory Explained
To summarize Herzberg’s two-factor theory, the factors that make an employee satisfied at work are different than the factors that make an employee dissatisfied.

View the video below for a quick summary of his model:


Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

 

Herzberg’s model was based on a set of interviews targeting accountants and engineers from Pittsburgh. The participants were asked to describe experiences at work when they felt exceptionally positive or negative feelings, and to provide the reasons that gave rise to those feelings. It was discovered that the factors leading to job satisfaction were different than the factors leading to job dissatisfaction.

Based on Frederick Herzberg’s research, the elements that lead to job satisfaction are:
– Achievement
– Recognition
– The work itself
– Increased responsibility
– Advancement
– Growth

The elements that lead to job dissatisfaction are:
– Company policy
– The relationship with your direct supervisor
– The work conditions
– Salary
– The relationship with peers
– A lack of job security

Criticism towards the dual factor theory
This model has been criticized for making the assumption that satisfied workers are more productive than dissatisfied workers. Despite this valid criticism, I put the essence of this model into good use when I focus on increasing employee engagement during change initiatives. I use Herzberg’s top two elements for job satisfaction, (1) achievement and (2) recognition, to create a greater sense of positive involvement during change.

When employees are given the opportunity to achieve a task, and receive recognition for this achievement from people whose opinion they value, the initiative as a whole will gain momentum in the right direction – one small win at a time.

Thinking about my own experiences, I am much more apt to adopt a change when I am given the opportunity to achieve a new task and to be recognized for my achievements. I’m not saying that achievement and recognition is the sure way to successful organizational change, but it’s a simple and straightforward way to help move the change in the right direction. Next time you create a training and rollout plan, break down new tasks in a way that they can be comfortably achieved and make sure the management team and other change leaders praise new behaviours at the right time. You may see a big improvement. What have you got to lose?

My Favorite Change Models: Part 3 – William Bridges’s Managing Transitions


This is the third and final post on the topic of my favorite change models. The first post in this series was Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model (Unfreezing the Organization). The second post was John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change Model. This third and final post describes my experiences in applying and referencing William Bridges’s Managing Transitions approach on various change engagements.

So Who Is William Bridges Anyway?
William Bridges is a recognized authority on managing change in the workplace.  He initially pursued a career in humanities until he later re-focused on change and transition management. In 1993, he was listed as one of the top independent executive development presenters by Wall Street Journal in America. (Source: William Bridges & Associates)

Transition Management Explained
William Bridges describes three major phases an individual passes through during the transition from old to new behaviors:
1. Ending, or Letting Go
2. Neutral Zone
3. New Beginning
(Source: Managing Transitions)

You can view the video below for a quick summary of his model:


Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

Here are some additional tips for managing employees in transition.

Acknowledge The Losses
It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the loss that employees feel during the transition process. This acknowledgement helps alleviate some of the anxieties that may be tied to employees transitioning to a new state.  Just imagine having a great relationship with your direct supervisor and having that taken away during organizational re-structuring.

This same scenario happened to me some time ago. I had reported directly to the Director of Organization Development. It was a great working relationship. Unfortunately, this working relationship dissolved one day when it was announced that the organization was being re-structured after the dismissal of the top three executives of the division, including my boss.

Not to my surprise, the new director possessed a different leadership style. I have to be honest in saying that I wasn’t able to replicate my enthusiasm at work with my new boss. And that’s ok. This experience made me realize that great working relationships are not easy to find. Once you find colleagues with whom you really like working, stick with them as much as you can.

In the end, I still respected the new director and was grateful that he gave me some time to “grieve” my loss and discuss what we each thought was important in a work environment.

Encourage Creativity In The Neutral Zone
In William Bridges’s model, the neutral zone is the in-between phase where employees recognize that the “old” is out; however, the “new” is not yet fully operational. Creativity and calculated risks should be encouraged during the change implementation to help mitigate and resolve unexpected challenges along the change journey.  I’ve learned through trial and error that the best laid plans will never cover all challenges on a change initiative.  There are simply too many unknowns.

Kurt Lewin once said – “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”. In other words, it’s only when you start implementing change that you gain a deeper understanding of the impact to the organization. It’s a period of time where you may find out that people who initially supported the change start opposing it and people who initially resisted the change become the greatest supporters (Source: The Change Monster, Jeanie Duck). Creative problem-solving and a little bit of calculated risk-taking will help resolve the unexpected issues that arise in the neutral zone.

Create Transition Monitoring Teams (TMTs)
TMTs, usually comprised of 7 to 12 employees, are focus groups created for the purpose of providing real-time feedback on the change initiative.  TMTs are a good way for the project team to hear back from employees that are not part of the project team regarding the perception of the change initiative in real-time fashion.

A word of caution when creating TMTs: make it clear from the beginning that TMT members do not hold any decision power on the change initiative.  Their purpose is to report on the feelings and perceptions of the change project. With frequent feedback from the TMTs, the project team can re-calibrate the change plan as necessary.

Create as many TMTs as you see fit for you change initiative. This will show the employees that the organization is listening.

This was the last post in this series discussing my favorite change models. I hope you’ve enjoyed the articles and will benefit from them.  As always, utilize more than one change model on any given change engagement to cover more angles. I wish you the best in your current and future change initiatives.

My Favorite Change Models: Part 2 – John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change


This is the second of three posts on my favorite change models. The first post in this series was Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model (Unfreezing the Organization). This second post describes my experiences in using and referencing John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Leading Change on various change engagements.

So Who Is John Kotter Anyway?
John Kotter is a professor at Harvard University and is regarded as an authority on leadership and change. He did both his undergraduate and master’s degrees at MIT before completing his doctorate degree in Business Administration at Harvard University. (source: Kotter International)

John Kotter has authored several books on change management:
1. Leading Change
2. Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions
3. The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations
4. A Sense of Urgency

Leading Change – Explained
John Kotter outlines eight steps that organizations need to take to successfully implement change:
1. Establish a sense of urgency
2. Create a guiding coalition
3. Develop a change vision
4. Communicate the change vision
5. Empower broad-based action
6. Generate short-term wins
7. Don’t let up
8. Make the change stick

You can view the video below for a quick summary of his model:


Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

Here are some additional hints for applying the 8 Steps to Leading Change Model.

Establish A Sense Of Urgency
Similar to other models, building a sense of urgency is a necessary step to implementing change successfully. If you don’t find a way to make the change exciting, compelling and necessary, you may find the implementation phase a little more challenging than it should be. When I formulate my communication messages, the “urgency” undertone is created by my thorough understanding of the organizational challenge(s) that want to be resolved (or the opportunities to be won). I do this by digging deep within the organization to uncover the history of the problem, the audiences impacted by the upcoming change and the reasons why the organization needs to change – such as the cost of change vs. the cost of doing nothing. With a thorough understanding of the purpose of the change, I can communicate the change initiative to the organizational stakeholders with a sense of urgency that is catered to each of the stakeholder groups.

Get The Right Organizational Leaders To Promote The Change
I cannot stress enough the importance of getting the right organizational leaders to sponsor the change initiative. From my point of view, designating the appropriate set of leaders to steer the change initiative in the right direction is paramount to the overall success of the project. The best case scenario would be to have the CEO and the executive leadership team support and steer the change initiative. If this is not possible, I would recommend having at least the departmental leaders and managers of the impacted stakeholders to actively commit, show support and promote the change. If not, it will be easier for the impacted employees to regress or hold onto their old behaviors and old technologies simply because the employees may observe conflicting behaviors or assigned tasks from their managers that contradict the change initiative.

I’ve been on both sides of this continuum.  I was able to work with the appropriate leaders and managers to push a change initiative forward, but I’ve also been part of other change projects that weren’t properly backed by the organizational leaders. In the latter situation, I found that I received plenty of lip service where people would seem curious about the change, but not give any real effort in exhibiting the new behaviors.  In short, there was no commitment to move the change forward. When this occurs, it is a slippery slope that results in one project extension after another.

Of course, the project goals were eventually met once the appropriate leaders got involved. To avoid this drawback, ensure that the right leaders and managers are actively promoting the change at the start of the initiative and make use of their authoritative power to eliminate barriers.

Generate Short Term Wins To Gain Momentum
Politicians, Hollywood actors and teen pop-stars would all secretly agree that perception is everything – try telling otherwise to someone like Jennifer Lopez. Perception is also important on change initiatives, especially at the start when is it imperative to get the change project started on the right foot. The strategy I like to keep in mind when identifying short-term wins is to identify tasks and milestones that are easy to implement, low risk and highly visible to employees. These “quick wins” can then be used to broadcast the progress of the change initiative to others and gain momentum towards a successful campaign. In other words, “don’t try to boil the ocean”. One of my past projects involved replacing an outdated ERP system in several catering centers across Canada. Because changing the ERP system in all of the centers at once would be too risky, we chose to replace the outdated ERP system one centre at a time. By implementing change one centre at a time, we were able to communicate our successes to the other centres to gain momentum and acceptance in advance. We were also able to focus on centre-specific issues, which resulted in a superior user-experience for that centre.

As we implemented the new ERP system in each centre, we were able to have the actual employees promote the new system from inside the company. This increased the momentum of the change exponentially.

As always, remember to use more than one change model when implementing change to cover all angles – as far as I know, there is no all-encompassing change model.  If used properly and in the right context, Kotter’s model can be an excellent tool for leading employees through complex change initiatives. Metaphorically speaking, Kotter’s model is one of the first tools I use out of my toolbox.

Stay tuned for my last post in this series – William Bridges’s Managing Transitions Model. Join my Email RSS feed to have updates sent straight to your inbox.

A Journey Into The Fog – Managing Change In A Complex World

Here it is. My first post in the vast land of the Internet. The journey has begun. Frankly, I don’t know where this site will take me. The first few articles will most likely be focused on discussing my favorite change management models and answering general questions I’ve been asked while on change engagements. One thing I know for sure is that I plan to base all content on my own personal experiences. Wishful thinking would lead me to believe that the honest and genuine undertones of my articles will be appreciated by some random, high-powered individuals who say – “wow, that guy’s amazing – we need him on our team”.

Unrealistic dreams aside, I’m hopeful that this blog will transform into a jive with academics and corporate citizens alike – exchanging experiences and promoting different ways of implementing change. (Or perhaps it may be more of a dance-off where I put my best foot forward, get challenged by my readers and fellow bloggers, go back and forth and end up with an experience that benefits us all.) If nothing else, I plan to enjoy the dance.

Wherever it takes me, I’m really looking forward to seeing what this blog becomes. Hopefully you’ll be interested too.