Culture and Change

Organizational change is something that is thought of as happening backstage. People have lives one can follow or take an interest in, but organizations are mostly seen as administrative structures, as “social machines” to achieve the benefit of scale. The sterling work of James F. Moore, “The Death of Competition”, and Arie de Geus, “The Living Company“, both a whom stress the similarity between living and business/social systems, has not really changed much of the mechanistic view of organizations.

This mechanistic view results in rather simplified approaches of changing organizations — if this is unavoidable. Yes – the preferred route, so it appears, is to change the context, to demand new metrics, to “just” (signifying an expected minimum of effort) increase efficiency. Attempts to improve “efficiency” are rarely seen as true organizational change. Leave everything the same, just push the accelerator pedal. Those executives, who run their companies that way, would hardly think that they’d get a better return of their investment, say, in a race horse, if this horse was running four races a day rather than just one a week. What’s the difference? The horse is an animal, a living system.

So if an organization has to be changed, it is often viewed like overlaying org charts. The form is the essence, because it expresses authority and control. By the way, notice that organizations are changed, whereas living systems do change. What if our organizations shared that capability with living systems? I will say more about this topic at another time.

Change the organization – this means we expect different results, different behaviour, different usage of resources or all of these at the same time. Actually, all of these aspects are interconnected. If we want to change a social system, we need to change the behaviour of the individuals making up this social system. We may want to introduce new values or revive old ones. That means we need to change the thinking of those we want to change their habits. And this means that we need to go deeper than the normal thought. We need to address why they are thinking the way they are, we need to address what shapes their thought. Mahatma Gandhi said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

My post about Rumyodin showed how psychology can change the believes of people about have what they can and cannot do. Where do these believes come from? They are an expression of the culture people live and work in. These believes are not necessarily conscious — neither are they rational. Dave Gray is trying to map cultural aspects to make explicit what is unconscious. If we want to change an organisation, we need to change belief system, and we therefore need to know what the current system is like. Cultural contexts are nested and overlaying — ethnic and religious influences, societal strata, profession, place of work and family — and their emerging patterns determines what we believe.

The belief system underlying a culture cannot be arbitrarily changed. It is not a set of independent statements that can be individually replaced. No, it is a system in which the individual parts reinforce each other. Let us examine “culture” a bit more closely, before we come to looking at how culture(s) develop and change.


About Hans-Jürgen

I am Chief Scientist of Kugler Maag Cie GmbH, an independent, international consulting company, specialising in the improvement of business and product development processes – from analysis, consultancy, and operative implementation to training and coaching. Most customers work in the context of emerging critical systems, such as automotive and transport. These require leading edge techniques to be deployed and organizational readiness for future challenges to be established. I have 35 years of experience in the software determined systems sector. As adjunct Professor, University of Limerick, I was Industry Director of Lero, the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, which I helped to establish. Previously I was a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, a director of software product and services companies, and Technical Director of the European Software Institute. I was involved in the design of means for industry-wide competence development in the automotive sector, and I conducted the first independent organizational software development capability assessment in the automotive industry in Germany. In my opinion the key competitive factor of the future will be a personal and organisational ability to embrace rapid change of the ecosystem and to proactively and continuously implement sustainable change. I have an M.Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Dortmund and an M.A. of Trinity College Dublin. In 1986 I was awarded the IFIP Silver Core.
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